Hazardous Materials in the Garage

The garage tends to be the graveyard for everything that we do not want in our house. Leftover cans of paint, solvents, glues, gasoline, oil, lawn chemicals, pool chemicals—you name it and it is in the garage. So what is the problem? All of those items you are trying to keep out of your home might be coming back inside anyway. You might even be setting your family up for a dangerous incident.

Inhaling Chemical Fumes

If you have an attached garage, with at least one wall of the garage sharing a wall with another room in your home, you might be surprised at what could be happening. The fumes and VOCs coming from toxic products in the garage can find a way into your home through the walls, the air vents, and even the exchange of air every time you open the door into the garage. It is especially problematic for the room closest to the garage or attached to the same wall.

What if you do not have an attached garage? You can still have the same problem of poor indoor air every time you enter the detached building, but it might be worse if you have a shed or small garage that is not climate-controlled. High temperatures in the garage will cause chemicals to off-gas from products even faster, raising toxin levels.

Limit What You Store

To truly have a healthy garage, you must rethink the toxic and hazardous chemicals and supplies that you keep. The more hazardous products that you have anywhere in your home, even in the garage, the greater the chance that they will cause you or your family members harm. Why not get rid of leftover paints, cleaning solutions, hobby supplies, and other items that you know that you will never use? Buy nontoxic, eco-friendly versions of the products that you would normally keep in the garage, from paints and glues to cleaning supplies and lawn chemicals, to avoid toxic exposures.

Paints, cleaners, pesticides, and other items that you remove from your garage likely qualify as hazardous waste. Contact your local waste management division for disposal regulations in your area and for a schedule of hazardous-waste collection. You can also search Earth911.com (www.earth911.com) for a recycling center near you that takes these items.

Taking Proper Precautions

Sometimes you have no choice but to store toxic ingredients, such as gas and oil for the lawn mower or paint stripper for a project that you are constantly working on. Even if the chemicals are not off-gassing into your indoor air, though, there is still a risk, and it might surprise you—they are fire hazards, as well. The U.S. Fire Administration suggests the following ways to keep hazardous materials safely stored at home:

  • Store hazardous materials in their original containers. If the label is peeling off, reattach it with transparent tape.

  • Use proper storage containers for flammables and combustibles; buy products with safety closures whenever possible.

  • Store flammable products, such as gasoline, kerosene, propane gas, and paint thinner in containers away from the house.

  • Never store flammables in direct sunlight or near an open flame.

  • Store hazardous materials out of the reach of children and pets.

Poison Control

No matter how hard you try to create a safe environment, sometimes accidents happen. If you have any amount of poisonous or hazardous materials in your garage or in your home—and just about everyone does—it is wise to have the number for your poison control help lines available in a place where you can access them quickly.

In 2009, more than 90 percent of all reported human poison exposures happened in a person's own home. Most deaths due to poisoning occur in adults. Ninety-three percent of all poisoning deaths in 2009 were in people age twenty or older, with the highest amount happening in adults age forty to forty-nine.

The American Association of Poison Control Centers (www.aapcc.org) operates fifty-seven poison centers across the country, but they can all be accessed with just one phone number: (800) 222-1222. Calling the number will automatically route you to your area poison control center every hour of the day, every day of the week. A search engine for local poison control centers and resources (www.aapcc.org/dnn/AAPCC/FindLocalPoison Centers.aspx) can offer additional information that you might find useful when trying to poison-proof your home.

Humans are not the only ones who can be injured by what is stored in the garage. Pets are often the victims of toxic exposures from hazardous materials thought to be tucked away safely outside of the home. The Animal Poison Control Center, operated by the ASPCA, can be reached twenty-four hours a day, every day of the year, at (888) 426-4435. The ASPCA offers answers to common poisoning questions in pets in their “Animal Poison Control FAQ” (www.aspca.org/pet-care/poison-control/animal-poison-control-faq.aspx).

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