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Hazardous Materials

Chemicals are found everywhere.  They purify drinking water, increase crop production, and simplify household chores.  But chemicals also can be hazardous to humans or the environment if used or released improperly.  Hazards can occur during production, storage, transportation, use, or disposal.  You and your community are at risk if a chemical is used unsafely or released in harmful amounts into the environment where you live, work, or play.

Special Hazards Operations TeamHazardous materials in various forms can cause death, serious injury, long-lasting health effects, and damage to buildings, homes, and other property.  Many products containing hazardous chemicals are used and stored in homes routinely.  These products are also shipped daily on the nation's highways, railroads, waterways, and pipelines.

Chemical manufacturers are one source of hazardous materials, but there are many others, including service stations, hospitals, and hazardous materials waste sites.

Varying quantities of hazardous materials are manufactured, used, or stored at an estimated 4.5 million facilities in the United States--from major industrial plants to local dry cleaning establishments or gardening supply stores.

Hazardous materials come in the form of explosives, flammable and combustible substances, poisons, and radioactive materials.  These substances are most often released as a result of transportation accidents or because of chemical accidents in plants.

Household Hazardous Materials (HHM)

Everyone knows that hazardous materials are found in industrial settings and many commercial operations.  But many people do not realize that they have hazardous materials right in their homes.  Household hazardous materials (HHM) are any materials that have the potential to create a hazard if handled improperly.  Under normal conditions HHM can be a valuable asset in the home.  Used or handled improperly, they can be a threat to the health and safety of everyone in the home.

Examples of improper handling include not following the label directions, allowing the material to remain in a damaged or leaking container, or storing the container where the contents might freeze or in a hot or damp environment.  Storing material in a container other than the original container is considered improper handling, as is allowing a potentially hazardous material to be stored where children, pets, or other incapable individuals might reach it.  Incapable individuals would include anyone who could not read and understand the label directions, or anyone who could not act rationally and responsibly in the use of the material.

HHM are found throughout most homes.  In the kitchen, the corrosive oven cleaners and drain openers can cause severe burns to the skin, blindness, or poisoning.  If exposed to sources of heat or ignition, aerosol cans can cause explosions or become dangerous projectiles.  Common lamp oil or pet sprays can cause poisoning or death if ingested.  Infants and toddlers are frequently poisoned by consuming HHM.  Infants do not understand the associated hazard.  Additionally, their sense of taste may not be as sensitive to pungent or unpleasant flavors.

In the bathroom, hair treatments, bowl cleaners, and aerosol cans must be stored and used with care to prevent poisoning, burns, blindness, or explosions.  Additionally, the medicines and thermometers that we use to help our families can become a threat to their well being if mishandled. Misadministration of medicines can result in poisonings.  Needles and sharps should be stored carefully and disposed in a rigid container to avoid accidental punctures and transmission of pathogens.  Mercury from a broken thermometer can cause long and short term health effects and should always be quickly and carefully contained for proper disposal.

DO NOT mix different cleaners.  Several common household cleaners, when combined, will react to form a poisonous gas.  Caution is recommended when using any other toilet bowl cleaner at the same time an in-tank cleaner is being used.  The in-tank cleaners should be removed and the toilet flushed twice before another cleaner is used.

As you look around your home, you will identify many HHM.  You may want to replace some of these items with a less hazardous alternative.  Because many of these materials are an integral part of your life, you will probably not want or be able to discontinue the use of some of them.  If you and your family store and use these materials carefully, there is no reason to eliminate them from your life.  Make certain that all HHM is used according to label directions and stored beyond the reach of children, pets, and individuals unable to read and follow label directions.  Store HHM in the original containers, away from extreme temperature and dampness.  Should the original container become damaged, use or dispose the material properly and promptly. 

See the Waste Services Division of Will County Land Use Dept. pick-up events schedule for Household Hazardous Waste.

Take Protective Measures


Many communities have Local Emergency Planning Committees (LEPCs) whose responsibilities include collecting information about hazardous materials in the community and making this information available to the public upon request.  The LEPCs also are tasked with developing an emergency plan to prepare for and respond to chemical emergencies in the community.  Ways the public will be notified and actions the public must take in the event of a release are part of the plan.  Contact or visit the Will County LEPC page to find out more about chemical hazards and what needs to be done to minimize the risk to individuals and the community from these materials.  Learn more...

You should add the following supplies to your disaster supplies kit:

  • Plastic sheeting.
  • Duct tape.
  • Scissors.

During a Hazardous Materials Incident


Listen to local radio or television stations for detailed information and instructions.  Follow the instructions carefully.  You should stay away from the area to minimize the risk of contamination.  Remember that some toxic chemicals are odorless.

If you are: Then:
Asked to evacuate Do so immediately.
Caught Outside Stay upstream, uphill, and upwind! In general, try to go at least one-half mile (usually 8-10 city blocks) from the danger area. Do not walk into or touch any spilled liquids, airborne mists, or condensed solid chemical deposits.
In a motor vehicle Stop and seek shelter in a permanent building. If you must remain in your car, keep car windows and vents closed and shut off the air conditioner and heater.
Requested to stay indoors
  • Close and lock all exterior doors and windows. Close vents, fireplace dampers, and as many interior doors as possible.
  • Turn off air conditioners and ventilation systems. In large buildings, set ventilation systems to 100 percent recirculation so that no outside air is drawn into the building. If this is not possible, ventilation systems should be turned off.
  • Go into the pre-selected shelter room. This room should be above ground and have the fewest openings to the outside.
  • Seal the room by covering each window, door, and vent using plastic sheeting and duct tape.
  • Use material to fi ll cracks and holes in the room, such as those around pipes.

If you have any questions, or would like further information on Hazardous Materials, please contact our office.