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Spring cleaning, household chemicals

OFFUTT AIR FORCE BASE, Neb. -- This is the time of year when people engage in spring cleanup chores. Often materials that have sat in garages and basements for extended periods of time are now rediscovered. While most items pose no risk, it's common for people to find items they can't identify or are in damaged containers. Many times people simply don't know the correct way to handle or dispose of items that may pose a risk to others or the environment.

Here are a few things to keep in mind when going through your garage or basement during spring cleanup.

· Containers that have sat in the same place undisturbed for many years may have changed their properties and become unstable, handle them carefully.

· Do not mix or throw different types of materials into the same box or pail. Certain materials when mixed together can cause poisonous or explosive reactions.

· Materials without labels should be handled carefully and be kept separated from other materials.

· When labels are present look for these words:

Poison
Caustic
Caution
Danger
Warning
Volatile
Corrosive
Flammable

These words are a relative indication of the toxicity of the materials involved with danger being the most hazardous.

Handling tips for household cleaning chemicals

· Never mix cleaning compounds together without referring to manufacturers instructions.

· Always use recommended quantities.

· Keep household chemicals in a secure location away from children.

· Have the number to a poison control center near the phone.

· If you accidentally come in contact with or ingest household chemicals, call 911 for assistance. Be as specific as possible as to the type of material and the quantity you were exposed to.

Storage of household chemicals

Flammable liquids such as gasoline should be kept in metal containers with a safety cap and stored in a shed. Flammable liquids should never be kept in glass containers. If the container is kept in the garage, it shouldn't be in the same room as the furnace or hot water heater.

Pesticides and lawn chemicals are generally poisonous and should be kept in a dry area away from children. The label will have one of three signal words, danger, warning or caution designating the toxicity level.

Corrosives are acids and alkaline found all around the house in the form of drain cleaners, tub and tile sprays, battery acids and some pool chemicals. If these materials come in contact with the skin or eyes, they cause severe and sometimes irreversible damage.

Oxidizers - Many pool chemicals and some fertilizers are oxidizers. This means they can cause something to burn that may not burn normally. Pool chlorine should be kept segregated from all flammable and combustible liquids.

Flammable gases, such as propane, should never be stored inside a house. This flammable gas is heavier than air and presents a severe explosive hazard inside a structure if there is a leak.

Disposal of household chemicals

Sarpy and Douglas County residents dispose of household hazardous waste free of charge at the Under the Sink facility located at 4001 S. 120th St., Omaha, Neb. Call 444-7465 or go to www.underthesink.org for more information.

Base facilities and work centers should coordinate with the 55th Civil Engineering Environmental Flight before disposing of any chemicals. Metropolitan and outlying area residents should call their city administrators for dates on spring cleanup collection dates and information.