When we hear the term "Hazmat" - shorthand for "hazardous materials" it usually conjures images of guys in silver moon-suits and respirators, arriving on the scene of a tanker truck collision or industrial emergency involving dangerous waste materials or pathogens. The fact is, however, that there are plenty of substances and products in our own buildings that fall under the hazmat classification, and all to often we dismiss the dangers residing alongside us.
"Hazmat' is a very broad term," according to Patrick Flynn, the lieutenant director of the New York City Department of Sanitation (DSNY)'s Environmental Police Unit, "and many people overlook some of the most dangerous materials out there."
And many of those products are biding their time under your sink, or in your super's broom closet. Household cleaning products alone account for a large proportion of everyday hazmats, and should be taken very seriously, despite their ubiquity and helpful intent. Multiply the products and chemicals one resident or family keeps in their unit by the number of units in your building, block and city, and the presence of potentially harmful materials grows exponentially.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Washington, DC, hazardous materials fall into four main classifications:
Corrosives are materials eat other materials and surfaces away gradually, generally through chemical action. Some of the most common products in this category are metal cleaners containing phosphoric acid; drain cleaners that contain sulfuric acid; rust-spot removers with hydrofluoric acid, and drain and oven cleaners containing sodium hydroxide or lye. All of these are hazardous to the skin, eyes, and lungs, as well as the environment and surfaces not intended for the product's use.