Who ya gonna call?

When you discover unidentified or suspicious-looking chemicals, call your county’s emergency-management office or solid-waste division. The state’s Hazardous Waste office in Asheville (251-6208) also covers 19 western North Carolina counties, including those listed here:

Buncombe County: 255-5038 (Emergency Management, Denise Ballew); 250-5460 (Solid Waste)

Henderson County: 697-4877 (Solid Waste); 697-4728 (Fire Marshall)

Madison County: 649-3766 (Emergency Management); 649-2311 (Solid Waste)

Transylvania County: 884-6830 (Solid Waste)

For pesticides, call your county agricultural-extension office:

• Buncombe: 255-5522

• Henderson: 697-4891

• Madison: 649-2411

• Transylvania: 884-3109

For hazardous-waste exposure or poisoning emergencies, call the Poison Center of WNC: 255-4490, or (800) 542-4225.

What to do with the stuff

First and foremost: Don’T Produce Household Hazardous Wastes!

Buy only what you need, and use it all up. Avoid storing leftovers for a rainy day: Containers can leak, children and pets may get hold of the chemicals, vapors could ignite … the dangers are almost limitless.

If you’ve got leftover latex paint that you can neither use nor give away, pour it over clay kitty litter: The volatiles will evaporate, leaving solid particles behind that you can throw out with your regular trash (just be sure to dry the paint in a well-ventilated area). For other paints — especially pre-1991, oil-based paints — give hazardous-waste personnel a call first (see box).

Many gas stations, garages and shops will accept used car batteries, motor oil and other automotive fluids. And some counties have drop-off facilities at their landfill collection sites. Check with your county solid-waste officials.

Take reusable household batteries to local dealers, such as Radio Shack. Most other batteries are no longer manufactured with high levels of mercury; you can dispose of them in your household trash.

For pesticides, check with your local agricultural-extension office. The state has an active collection effort.

Whatever you do, don’t just toss such wastes in the trash or down the drain, and don’t mix your chemicals (bathroom cleaning agents are particularly dangerous, in this regard). Keep ignitable wastes well away from heat and light sources: Storing your gas-powered lawnmower in a utility room containing the home water heater is a bad idea, for example.

If you must store household hazardous wastes, make sure they’re placed on high shelves or in locked cabinets — well out of reach of children and pets. Keep them in the original containers, well labeled and tightly closed. Store similar products together to reduce the chances of cross-contamination. Store them in well-ventilated areas.

Nontoxic cleaners

Remember all those old-fashioned cleaning tips your grandmother used? They work. Here are just a few (funny how so many of them involve vinegar …):

• Instead of ammonia-based cleaners, use white vinegar in a spray bottle.

• For an easy ant poison, clean countertops with a solution of half-vinegar, half-water.

• To clean brass, make a toothpaste-thick paste of lemon juice and baking soda; rub on brass with a soft cloth, and rinse with water.

• To open clogged drains, pour baking soda in, followed by an equal amount of vinegar (kids love to watch this one bubble). Finish with a douse of boiling water. Or get physical by using a plunger or plumber’s snake.

• For a fabric softener, add either a quarter-cup of baking soda or a quarter-cup of (you guessed it) vinegar to the rinse cycle. Or add a drop of your favorite essential oil (not cooking oil — there’s no point in smelling like a peanut).

• To clean floors, it’s old reliable vinegar again: Mix a half-cup into a gallon of warm water.

• Choose water-based or limestone-based paints, instead of oil-based paints.

• For a good furniture polish, wet and wring out a washcloth with water. Wipe the furniture surface with it, immediately followed by a swipe with a dry cloth. For oil-finished surfaces, mix three cups olive oil and one cup vinegar: Apply with a clean, soft cloth. To remove water stains, try a dab of toothpaste on a damp cloth.

• For a glass and window cleaner, mix a half-cup of vinegar with one quart warm water, then wipe with newspaper (Mountain Xpress will do … after you’ve read it).

• To clean the oven after last night’s lasagna splattered the insides, sprinkle water on the surface, apply baking soda (almost as useful as vinegar) and scrub with fine-grade steel wool. Wipe off the scum with a damp sponge. Or, while the oven is still warm, sprinkle salt on the spill. After the oven has cooled, scrape it off and wipe clean.

• And, for toilet bowls, scrub well with baking soda.

These tips were adapted from information provided by the Land-of-Sky Regional Council’s Household Hazardous Waste Advisory Committee.

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