Below is a list of the most frequently asked questions regarding household hazardous waste.


Q: What is HHW?
A: Many common chemical products found in the home, garage, workshop, and garden contain hazardous ingredients which need to be used, stored and disposed of responsibly and safely. "Household Hazardous Waste" (HHW) is that portion of a household product which is no longer usable, leftover, or not wanted and has to be disposed of. HHW can be described as discarded solid or liquid materials or containers holding gases which may cause an adverse, harmful or damaging biological effect in an organism or the environment.

Q: How can you tell if a product is hazardous?
A: A product is to be considered hazardous if it is flammable, if it reacts or explodes when mixed with other substances, if it is corrosive or if it is toxic. Some items like paint thinner and car batteries are obviously hazardous, but many products such as polishes, insecticides and glues are overlooked and not commonly recognized as hazardous.

Q: How does HHW affect your health?
A: Here is a sample list of a few items that most have around the home and what negative effects they have on us and our environment:

  1. Glass Cleaners - emit ammonia that you breathe. Ammonia is toxic, but many glass containers do not carry a warning label.
  2. Aerosol Cans - no longer contain CFCs, but do contain isobutene, propane and butane. Studies have shown these chemicals to be toxic to the heart and nervous system of animals. Aerosol cans may also contain toxic solvents such as ethanol, isopropyl alcohol and propylene glycol which are "volatile organic compounds" that can contaminate ground and surface water as well as contribute to global warming.
  3. Drain Cleaners - contain lye, hydrochloric and sulphuric acids which can burn human tissue and cause permanent damage. If not used according to the directions, they can also explode.
  4. Toilet Bowl Cleaners - contain chlorine and hydrochloric acid which can burn the eyes and skin. Swallowing these products can be fatal. The fumes can corrode metal, and fumes may even escape from closed containers.
  5. Home and Garden Pesticides - can increase the risk of leukemia in children, according to the National Cancer Institute. Many pesticides have been linked to birth defects and cancer. Even though we use them outside, rain washes pesticides and herbicides into the ground water which may turn up in our drinking water.
  6. All-Purpose Cleaners - contain ammonia or chlorine, which can irritate the lungs, causing shortness of breath and coughing. Chlorine forms cancer-causing compounds when released into the environment. When the two chemicals are mixed, they form deadly chloramines gas.

Q: Why bring items to a special HHW collection?
Bringing your HHW to a special collection is the most responsible way to dispose of toxic household chemicals. Whether it be a bottle of window cleaner or a bottle of mercury, bringing the chemicals to the waste collection event will ensure that they are properly handled and disposed of in a way that is most conscientious towards our environment.

Q: But really, how many of these chemicals are around my house?
The average household contains as much as 100 pounds of hazardous waste. Products are typically found in five areas of the home: kitchens, bathrooms, garages, workshops and gardens.

Q: How safe is the collection area with all of these chemicals around?
The site will be very safe. Only trained personnel will collect and transport the items that you bring. In fact, we ask that you remain in your vehicle while the staff removes the items. Whether you realize it or not, handling HHW for any period of time can have negative effects on our lives. During the collection process, the only handling we ask that you do is to load materials into your car to transport to the site.

Q: How much does this event cost?
Although the cost of the event itself is upwards of $30,000, the collected items will be charged at a rate of $3 per gallon. Some items, such as mercury, are more expensive to process and will carry a higher fee. The partnerships between the Cambria County Solid Waste Authority, Southwestern PA HHW Task Force, and the Pennsylvania Resources Council make this event available to the public through grants and donations from public and private sources.

Q: If I have more questions, who do I contact?
For more information on HHW, visit www.swpahhw.org. For questions on the collections in Cambria County, see the CCSWA contact information by clicking here.


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