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Household Hazardous Waste - how to read a Non-pesticide label

hazardous products, including cleaning agents, detergents, polishes, stripping compounds, pesticides, and many others, are required by law to meet specific label requirements. There are two specific sets of federal regulations for labeling hazardous products:

Hazardous products other than pesticides, which can be toxic, corrosive, irritant, flammable, or radioactive are regulated by the Federal Hazardous Substances Act (FHSA);

Products containing pesticides which are toxic are regulated by the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA).
FHSA and FIFRA set the minimum standards for the information that labels must contain to comply with the law. Whether or not this information is found on the label depends upon the interest of the manufacturer in complying with the letter and spirit of the law.

Some labels do not even list ingredients of the product.


If a product label does not provide ingredients or adequate instructions on how to safely use the product, consider buying a product that does list this basic information. You can also contact the manufacturer, distributor, or retailer and request a copy of the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) for that product. An MSDS lists the ingredients in a hazardous product, its manufacturer, its hazards to safety and health, and precautions to follow when using it.

While manufacturers do not have to provide consumers with an MSDS, reputable manufacturers should. Response is often slow, so don’t be surprised if it takes 4-6 weeks. Keep copies of the letters you send asking for Material Safety Data Sheets. For assistance in understanding the terminology of an MSDS, contact Clark County Environmental Services at (360) 397-2121 ext. 4352.

If you need answers about what a product contains in a relatively short time, you can call the Regional Poison Center (1-800-542-6319) and request information on products and the potential health effects of their ingredients.

Label Example and What Each Label Item Means

The labels of household products containing hazardous substances must include at least the following information:

BRITE BLEACH Contains No Phosphates [Brand name.]

2. Active Ingredient: Sodium Hypochloride 5%
[Common and/or chemical name. A list of the common names of the hazardous ingredients; if a hazardous substance has no common name, the chemical name will be listed. Both names may appear on the label, as in this case. “Sodium Hypochloride” is the chemical name. “Bleach” is the common name.]

3. 64 fl. oz (2 Quart) [Amount of contents.]

4. Caution: Keep Out Of Reach Of Children [Signal word. The signal word “Danger” is used on substances which are extremely flammable, corrosive, or highly toxic. The signal words “Warning” or “Caution” are used on all other hazardous substances. Signal words are usually followed by “Keep out of reach of children.” The word “nontoxic” is an advertising word and lacks a federal regulatory definition.]

5. BRITE: Household uses. Use BRITE to clean your bathroom and kitchen. BRITE is an   excellent disinfectant and deodorizer. BRITE cleans by removing stubborn stains and eliminating odor-causing germs from surfaces all around the house.
Toilet Bowls--Pour in 1/2 cup of BRITE. Brush entire bowl. Let stand 10 minutes. Do not use with toilet bowl cleaners. See caution statement.
Kitchen Sinks--Cover stains with water. Pour 1/2 cup of BRITE directly into standing water.
Floor--Clean with a solution of 1 cup of BRITE per gallon of sudsy water. Do not use on cork.
Bathtubs and Showers--Clean with a solution of 1 cup of BRITE per gallon warm water.
Laundry Uses -- Direction for Use: For best results, use the proper amount of BRITE in your wash water. Large top-loading automatic: 1-1/2 cups Regular top-loading automatic: 1 cup
Front-loading automatic: 1/2 cup Heavy-soiled laundry: increase 1/2 cup Hand laundry: 2 gallons of sudsy water, 1/4 cup BRITE.
[Instructions for safe handling and use. Warnings about what not to mix the product with or where to avoid use of the product. The quantities for proper use of the product are listed here. (Always use the recommended amount. Using more of a product does not mean a better job will result!)]

6. WRITE for a free BRITE “Guide to Cleaner Laundry” booklet or other information on laundry and house cleaning to the BRITE Company, P.O. Box 12345, Braselton, WA 44150.[Name and address of manufacturer, distributor, packer, or seller. (Contact the manufacturer about any questions concerning the product.)]

7. For Use On The Following Fabrics: Cotton, linen, synthetics, permanent press and all color-fast fabrics. Do not use BRITE on silk, wool, mohair, leather, spandex or non-color fast fabrics. [Description of hazard and precautions. A description of the principal hazard involved in using the product. In this case, the product is an “irritant” to the skin and eyes, and to the gastrointestinal system if swallowed. Other words that may be used to describe the principal hazard in using products may include “Vapor Harmful,” “Flammable,” “Corrosive,” “Absorbed Through the Skin” and such. A statement of what to do to avoid the hazard such as precautions to wear gloves or eye protection, or to provide adequate ventilation. A shortcoming of labels is that they do not specify how much ventilation is adequate, or (in many cases) what safety equipment should be used with the product.]

8. Caution: BRITE may be harmful if swallowed or may cause severe eye irritation if splashed in eyes. If swallowed, feed milk. If splashed in eyes, flood with water. Call Physician. Skin irritant: If contact with skin, wash off with water. Do not use BRITE with ammonia or products containing acids such as toilet bowl cleaners, rust removers, or vinegar; to do so will release hazardous gases. Prolonged contract with metal may cause pitting or discoloration. Do not use this bottle for storage of any other liquid but BRITE. [First aid instructions, when necessary or appropriate. On some hazardous products, antidotes are listed in case of accidental poisoning. However, especially with older products, many of the antidotes are not in keeping with current medical recommendations. In the event of a poison emergency, always dial 911 or call the Regional Poison Center (1-800-222-1222).]


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