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illustration: less toxic garbage canReducing Workplace Toxics
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Most workplaces use products containing toxic constituents, such as cleaning supplies, paints, pesticides, and solvents. Exposure to toxics can result in health problems, such as asthma, liver or kidney damage, and even cancer.

Your organization can create a safer workplace by reducing and eliminating products that are toxic, carcinogenic, and flammable. Safer workplaces can reduce worker absences due to illness or injury, decrease workers’ compensation claims, and lessen your liability exposure. Since toxic chemicals can end up in local wastewater systems or lead to ozone depletion, using fewer or less-toxic chemicals also lessens their potential impacts on the environment.

Product labels indicate the hazard level associated with using the products. The Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS), provided by the manufacturer of any product containing a toxic substance, specifies the hazardous ingredients and health impacts of the product. Look for opportunities to create a safer workplace by using less-toxic or non-toxic products.

Review the following list of toxic, carcinogenic, and flammable products to learn about their toxic constituents, potential health impacts, and possible substitutes. Go to potential health effects to view a complete list of toxic chemicals contained in these products and their potential health impacts.

Dispose of your materials safely and in accordance with the law. Businesses, agencies, nonprofits, and institutions must all follow specific guidelines to dispose of most toxic products.

For additional links on reducing toxics, visit helpful links about reducing toxics.

AUTOMOTIVE PRODUCTS
antifreeze
brake cleaner
car wash detergent
lead-acid batteries
solvents/degreasers

BUILDING MATERIALS
asbestos
ballasts
fluorescent lamps
thermostats/other mercury devices

CUSTODIAL PRODUCTS
aerosol cans
air freshener/deodorizer
disinfectant
floor cleaner/stripper
floor wax/polish
glass/window cleaner
graffiti remover
kitchen degreaser
metal polish/cleaner
toilet bowl/urinal cleaner

ELECTRONIC DEVICES AND BATTERIES
alkaline batteries
computers, televisions, and other electronics equipment
rechargeable batteries
cell phones

HEALTHCARE RELATED PRODUCTS
thermometers/other mercury devices
syringes/sharps/lancets

PAINT PRODUCTS
paint
paint thinner
chemical paint stripper

PESTICIDES, HERBICIDES, AND FERTILIZERS
pesticide
herbicide
fertilizer


Antifreeze

Most commercially available antifreeze contains ethylene glycol, a chemical that helps to control the temperature of the water in a vehicle’s radiator. During its life in a vehicle, antifreeze may become contaminated with fuel or heavy metal particles and grit. If the levels of dissolved metals, such as lead or cadmium, are high enough, used antifreeze may be a hazardous waste. The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) requires a hazardous waste determination on used antifreeze unless it is recycled in a totally enclosed system.

Do not dispose of antifreeze down the drain, in sewers, or into streams. Never drain the antifreeze from your car onto the street. The sweet smell of antifreeze is appealing to dogs and cats, who may drink it. Antifreeze is poisonous to animals — even a small amount can kill them.

CHEMICAL CONSTITUENTS: ethylene glycol, lead, toluene

SUBSTITUTES: Consider specifying antifreeze containing less-toxic propylene glycol, rather than ethylene glycol. Propylene glycol antifreeze is readily available at a cost comparable to that of ethylene glycol antifreeze. Use long-life antifreeze that lasts five years or 150,000 miles.

ALSO SEE:
alternative products
antifreeze tips

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Brake cleaner

Brake cleaners typically are aerosol solvent products specifically designed to clean brake parts. Petroleum-based solvents are not recommended for brake cleaning or inspections, since the petroleum distillates are known to damage brake parts and friction materials.

CHEMICAL CONSTITUENTS: acetone, n-heptane, n-hexane, methylene chloride, perchloroethylene, tetrachloroethylene, toluene, xylene

SUBSTITUTES: Consider using less-toxic brake cleaners, which are readily available and often cost less than products with harmful constituents.

ALSO SEE:
alternative products

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Ballasts

Unless a ballasts is labeled as not containing PCBs, it may contain PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyl), especially if it was manufactured prior to 1979. The PCB is located within the ballast capicitor at a quantity of approximately 1 to 10.5 fluid ounces. It is importatin to maintain your ballasts to prevent leakage, and to recycle PCB-containing ballasts at the end of their useful life.

CHEMICAL CONSTITUENTS: PCB (polychorinated biphenyl)

SUBSTITUTES: Replace old ballasts and ballasts labeled as containing PCBs with ballasts free from PCBs manufactured subsequent to 1979 labeled "Does not contain PCBs".

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Car wash detergent

Car wash detergents often contain solvents and harsh acids.

CHEMICAL CONSTITUENTS: chlorinated hydrocarbons, hydrochloric acid, methylene chloride, naphthalene, phenol, phosphoric acid, sulfuric acid, trichloroethylene

SUBSTITUTES: Consider using products with food-grade acids as replacements for hazardous mineral acids such as hydrochloric, sulfuric, and others. Use products with water-based rust and soft metal corrosion inhibitors that are safe and need not be removed for further processes such as painting.

ALSO SEE:
alternative products
automotive tips

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Lead-acid batteries

Vehicle maintenance facilities regularly replace used lead-acid batteries. Improper handling or disposal of these batteries may result in leaks or spills of acid. It is illegal to discard auto batteries as trash.

CHEMICAL CONSTITUENTS: copper, lead, sulfuric acid

SUBSTITUTES: Consider purchasing longer-life lead-acid batteries to reduce the frequency of change-out. Substitute sealed gel-cell batteries, where applicable. Sealed batteries do not require addition of sulfuric acid and require less maintenance. They also may last up to two times longer.

ALSO SEE:
alternative products and recyclers 
lead-acid battery tips
rechargeable battery and cell phone recycling: info for agencies

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Solvents/degreasers

Maintenance facilities often operate parts-washer solvent tanks for cleaning parts and tools. Solvents used include mineral spirits, as well as other chemicals. When no longer usable, the solvents become hazardous wastes because they are ignitable and/or toxic. Always check the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) for proper use and disposal methods for any solvent.

CHEMICAL CONSTITUENTS: benzene, methyl ethyl ketone (MEK), perchloroethylene, toluene, trichloroethylene, 1,1,1 trichloroethane, xylene

SUBSTITUTES: Enclosed cabinets help contain fumes. Consider using less hazardous solvents, such as water-based detergents, citrus-based degreasers, or aqueous or semi-aqueous cleaners. Or use hot soap or jet-spray washers to clean parts.

ALSO SEE:
alternative products
solvent tips

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Asbestos

Asbestos is a family of naturally occurring mineral fibers that has been used commonly for insulation and as a fire-retardant in building construction materials, such as roof shingles, ceiling and floor tiles, and certain cement products. It has also been used in some car parts and heat-resistant fabrics, packaging, and coatings.

When loose microscopic asbestos fibers get into the air, from damaged or disturbed materials containing asbestos they can be inhaled into the lungs or swallowed, and cause significant health problems.

If altering or demolishing a building, you must conform to asbestos abatement regulations to avoid release of asbestos fibers into the air. NYC's Asbestos Control Program provides guidance on and requirements for the proper handling, storing, and getting rid of asbestos-containing materials. This program is built on NYC's asbestos abatement laws and asbestos transport, storage and disposal laws, that conform with relevant state asbestos laws and federal asbestos laws.

NYC schools have specific federal asbestos regulations that require educational agencies to inspect schools and implement abatement activities where necessary, and to prepare plans to prevent asbestos hazards. These activities must be conducted by accredited persons.

CHEMICAL CONSTITUENTS: asbestos

SUBSTITUTES: Most products made today do not contain asbestos. Those few products made which still contain asbestos that could be inhaled are required to be labeled as such.

ALSO SEE:
helpful links about reducing toxics

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Aerosol cans

Aerosol cans are used to dispense a variety of maintenance and pest control products, including general cleaners, insecticides, and paints. The aerosol system releases both product and propellant into the air, allowing workers to breathe the chemicals. Aerosol dispensers may waste product by propelling it into the air and onto surfaces other than those intended.

CHEMICAL CONSTITUENTS: dimethyl ether, liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) (mixture of propane, isobutane and n-butane), toluene

SUBSTITUTES: Use liquid forms of cleaning and maintenance products to avoid release of propellants into the air. Choose pump-spray dispensers over aerosols. Or use products with soluble compressed gas (e.g., carbon dioxide) or non-soluble compressed gas (e.g., compressed air and nitrogen) propellants as alternatives to LPG.

ALSO SEE:
cleaning product tips

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Air freshener/deodorizer

The cresols, phenol, and formaldehyde in deodorizers and air fresheners desensitize the nose. These chemicals are associated with numerous health problems.

CHEMICAL CONSTITUENTS: cresols, formaldehyde, naphthalene, phenol, xylene

SUBSTITUTES: Consider products containing limonene, a natural lemon ingredient used in many air fresheners. To absorb odors, place baking soda or white vinegar in small dishes. Sprinkle baking soda in trash cans.

ALSO SEE:
alternative products
cleaning product tips

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Disinfectant

Disinfectants are designed to kill germs. To do so, they often contain toxic chemicals that can be harmful to people. Some toxic fumes can escape even through tightly closed containers.

CHEMICAL CONSTITUENTS: ammonia, chlorine, cresols, formaldehyde, methylene chloride, naphthalene

SUBSTITUTES: Consider using products containing hydrogen peroxide, which is a safer sanitizing and oxidizing agent than chlorine bleach. Or add borax to boiling water to create a disinfectant. Allow mixture to cool before use.

ALSO SEE:
alternative products
cleaning product tips

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Floor cleaner/stripper

Industrial floor cleaners and strippers contain caustic chemicals.

CHEMICAL CONSTITUENTS: 2 -butoxyethanol, ethanolamine, potassium hydroxide, sodium hydroxide

SUBSTITUTES: Consider enzymatic cleaners and detergents, and non-caustic strippers.

ALSO SEE:
alternative products
cleaning product tips

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Floor wax/polish

Many polish ingredients have been found to cause cancer in animals. Residual vapors can contaminate areas long after application of the wax or polish.

CHEMICAL CONSTITUENTS: nitrobenzene, perchloroethylene, phenol, toluene, xylene

SUBSTITUTES: Consider using products containing simple alcohols such as methyl or isopropyl alcohol instead of strong solvents such as xylene. Polish finished wood with wax once or twice a year. Wax builds a protective shield, makes wood glossy, and produces a non-skid finish. Or create less-toxic polishes: Melt one-quarter cup paraffin in a double boiler. Stir in 2 quarts of mineral oil, or combine 1 tablespoon lemon oil and 1 pint of mineral oil.

ALSO SEE:
alternative products
cleaning product tips

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Glass/window cleaner

Glass cleaners emit an ammonia mist, which the user breathes. Although ammonia is a poison, glass cleaning products do not carry a warning label.

CHEMICAL CONSTITUENTS: ammonia, 2-butoxyethanol

SUBSTITUTES: First, use rubbing alcohol to clean the residual wax left from commercial glass cleaners. Then clean with a mixture of half white vinegar and half water. Or mix a solution of 2 tablespoons vinegar to 1 quart water; apply with a wad of newspaper. Wipe windows dry with a soft cloth.

ALSO SEE:
alternative products
cleaning product tips 

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Graffiti remover

Graffiti removers use strong solvents to remove spray paint, marker, and other indelible substances from barriers, walls, and other surfaces.

CHEMICAL CONSTITUENTS: methylene chloride, perchloroethylene, toluene

SUBSTITUTES: Consider using less-toxic or non-toxic products for graffiti removal. These products are widely available at a price comparable to that of the more toxic products.

ALSO SEE:
alternative products
cleaning product tips 

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Kitchen degreaser

Kitchen degreasers can contain strong solvents that may be breathed or ingested in a kitchen environment. Products can linger on work surfaces and contaminate food items.

CHEMICAL CONSTITUENTS: perchloroethylene, toluene

SUBSTITUTES: Consider using mixtures containing vinegar, baking soda, washing soda, borax, and lemon juice to cut kitchen grease.

ALSO SEE:
alternative products  
cleaning product tips   
solvent tips

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Metal polish/cleaner

Fumes from the chemicals contained in polishes applied to chrome, stainless steel, and other metals may contribute unnecessary pollution to the air in your facility.

CHEMICAL CONSTITUENTS: ammonia, perchloroethylene, phosphoric acid, sulfuric acid, xylene

SUBSTITUTES: Consider using reformulated commercial products that do not contain dangerous chemicals. Use common products such as baking soda, white flour, or rubbing alcohol on a dry rag.

ALSO SEE:
alternative products 
cleaning product tips 

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Toilet bowl/urinal cleaner

Toilet bowl and urinal cleaners often contain harsh acids that can corrode plumbing systems as well as harm workers.

CHEMICAL CONSTITUENTS: hydrochloric acid, perchloroethylene, phosphoric acid

SUBSTITUTES: Consider using non-acid, non-caustic cleaners. Sprinkle baking soda around the bowl and wait a few minutes. Pour in white vinegar and scrub with a toilet brush. Vinegar is a mild acid and should remove any hard water scale.

ALSO SEE:
alternative products 
cleaning product tips

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Alkaline Batteries

Alkaline batteries, which are standard single-use batteries, no longer contain Mercury, therefore they are not considered hazardous.

CHEMICAL CONSTITUENTS: potassium hydroxide

SUBSTITUTES: Consider using rechargeable batteries, which last longer and are therefore more cost-effective than single-use batteries. In addition, rechargeable batteries are more easily recyclable than single-use alkaline batteries.

ALSO SEE:
recyclers
battery tips

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Computers, Televisions, and Other Electronic Equipment

While safe to use, electronic products contain heavy metals and other toxics that can be dangerous both during production and disposal of these products. These items are included in circuit boards, monitors, cable and casing. Business and institutions must ensure that all electronic products are recycled properly at time of disposal.

CHEMICAL CONSTITUENTS: cadmium, chromium, lead, mercury

SUBSTITUTES: Consider purchasing computers that meet Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool (EPEAT) standards; such devices meet various levels of environmental criteria, including the use of less toxic materials.

ALSO SEE:
take it back nyc 
electronics recycling
recyclers and handlers
electronics tips  

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Rechargeable Batteries

Compared to single-use batteries, rechargeable batteries reduce waste; however, they can contain cadmium, lead, and other heavy metals that can be dangerous if not disposed of properly.

CHEMICAL CONSTITUENTS: cadmium, chromiumcopper, lead, sulfuric acid

SUBSTITUTES: Consider using lithium-ion and nickel-metal-hydride rechargeable batteries which are less toxic than the nickel-cadmium and lead-acid batteries.

ALSO SEE:
rechargeable battery and cell phone recycling: info for agencies 
recyclers
battery tips

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Cell Phones

While safe to use, cell phones contain heavy metals such as lead, mercury, and cadmuim, which can pose a problem to the environment if not properly recycled.

CHEMICAL CONSTITUENTS: leadmercury, cadmium

ALSO SEE:
cell phone takeback
cell phone donation options
electronics recycling

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Fluorescent Lamps

While more energy efficient, fluorescent lamps contain small amounts of mercury that can be released into the atmosphere if broken. The fluorescent lighting industry has dramatically reduced the amount of mercury in lamps, such that most lamps are at or below 10mg of mercury.

CHEMICAL CONSTITUENTS: mercury

SUBSTITUTES: Consider purchasing low-mercury fluorescent lamps usually indicated by a "green tip" or characteristic green-colored aluminum end. Certain green tip and other “low-mercury” lamps have mercury levels as low as 3-6mg.

ALSO SEE:
recyclers
fluorescent lamp tips

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Thermostats/Other Mercury Devices

Thermostats, thermometers, and other mercury containing devices can cause chronic health effects when released into the atmosphere.

CHEMICAL CONSTITUENTS: mercury

SUBSTITUTES: Consider purchasing digital replacements for thermostats, thermometers, and other equipment.

ALSO SEE:
recyclers
mercury tips

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Syringes, Sharps and Lancets

CHEMICAL CONSTITUENTS: Used sharps, especially those that have come into contact with blood, can contain any variety of chemical dangers. Proper storage and disposal of used household sharps is necessary to protect children, pets, and Sanitation workers.

ALSO SEE:
medical waste

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Paint

Up to 300 toxic substances, including metals, solvents, and fungicides, have been found in commercial oil and latex paints. Potentially harmful vapors are emitted for months after paint dries.

CHEMICAL CONSTITUENTS: acetone, n-butyl alcohol, chromium, lead, methyl ethyl ketone (MEK), toluene, xylene

SUBSTITUTES: Use latex paints whenever possible. The volatile organic compound (VOC) content of latex paints is much lower than in solvent-based paints, reducing worker exposure. Specify low-VOC paints.

ALSO SEE:
alternative products
paint tips 
helpful links about paint

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Paint thinner

Oil-based paint thinner contains flammable and toxic solvents. Most solvent exposure comes from breathing the vapors.

CHEMICAL CONSTITUENTS: ethyl acetate, mineral spirits, toluene, turpentine

SUBSTITUTES: Consider using paint thinners that do not contain solvents and mineral spirits.

ALSO SEE:
alternative products

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Chemical paint stripper

Most paint strippers contain flammable and toxic solvents. Methylene chloride, a cancer-causing agent, is a major component of nearly all chemical paint removers on the market.

CHEMICAL CONSTITUENTS: acetone, methylene chloride, methyl ethyl ketone (MEK), toluene, trichloroethylene, xylene

SUBSTITUTES: Consider using paint strippers that contain benzyl alcohol, a less-toxic alternative to the solvents typically found in paint strippers. Use paint strippers with natural citrus-based solvents.

ALSO SEE:
alternative products

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Pesticide

Pesticides are poisons formulated to kill specific insects or other pests, such as rodents. Since these products are poisonous, they can cause harm to humans as well.

CHEMICAL CONSTITUENTS: organophosphates, carbamates, chlorinated hydrocarbons (Organochlorines, including DDT), methyl bromide (bromomethane), pyrethrins and pyrethroids. (These are just a few of the insecticides available for residential and commercial use.)

SUBSTITUTES: Consider ultrasonic products that keep pests away with sound waves. Or use borates (boric acid), made from low-toxicity mineral salt with insecticidal, fungicidal, and herbicidal properties.

ALSO SEE:
alternative products
pesticide tips 
helpful links about pesticides

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Herbicide

Lots overgrown with weeds may harbor harmful insects or rodents that can spread diseases; weeds also produce seeds that can infest neighboring lawns and fields. Herbicides contain poisons formulated to kill specific types of plants. These products are poisonous and can cause harm to humans as well.

CHEMICAL CONSTITUENTS: 2,4-D (phenoxy herbicides), diquat dibromide (organonitrogen herbicide), glyphosate (Roundup), methyl bromide, (bromomethane), paraquat (organonitrogen herbicide). (These are just a few of the herbicides available for residential and commercial use.)

SUBSTITUTES: If personnel are available, hoeing is a practical, effective way of removing weed growth. Mulching suppresses new weeds. Mechanical cultivation also controls weeds. Apply less-toxic controls such as vinegar, alcohol, or boiling water. Or use borates (boric acid), made from low-toxicity mineral salt with insecticidal, fungicidal, and herbicidal properties.

ALSO SEE:
alternative products
pesticide tips   
helpful links about pesticides

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Fertilizer

If not applied properly, chemical fertilizers can be dangerous to humans, animals, and even to the plants they are meant to feed. Some commercial fertilizers contain dioxins and heavy metals from waste products used in the formulation.

CHEMICAL CONSTITUENTS: arsenic, cadmium, chromium, dioxin, lead, mercury, chemical nitrogen

SUBSTITUTES: Use fertilizers made from animal by-products, such as dried blood, blood meal, or bone meal. Or use certified organic fertilizers or composts/manures/blended fertilizers, such as seaweed, guano, earthworm castings, and activated manure or compost extracts.

ALSO SEE:
alternative products
pesticide tips 
helpful links about pesticides

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