Hazardous chemicals in the house

Al Christensen, Tri-County Solid Waste

Hello Everyone. I’m not ready to mow lawn or fight mosquitoes yet but I’m ready for a change or maybe my snow shovel is just begging for mercy! Our hazardous chemicals topic this month was prompted by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA), and I was glad they suggested it.


The first item we should discuss is mercury. It’s an oldie but still relevant. Mercury has taken a back seat lately to per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), also known as forever chemicals. Forever chemicals do not break down easily and often can accumulate in your body. They are generally very harmful to humans and the environment. As much as PFAS would like to steal the show, mercury is also a forever chemical that will bio-accumulate in our soil, water, and bodies over time.

Mercury is a naturally occurring element that is toxic to living organisms. It is an endocrine disruptor, which causes many problems in our bodies once it reaches a certain amount. It is a silvery, liquid metal that does not break down or decrease its toxicity, like some other pollutants. Mercury can be found in a number of products such as fluorescent light tubes, compact fluorescents (pigtail shaped) high-pressure sodium lights, and metal halide lights. It can also be found in some skin-lightening creams – please look for calomel, mercuric, or mercurous on the labels. Some may still have old mercury thermometers. Old thermostats and barometers can also contain mercury.

Although we receive less of mercury containing devices these days, our local hazardous waste facilities still receive a steady stream of mercury devices. Please do a thorough scan of the house and garage for these items and bring them to your local hazardous waste facility.

I would also like to give a heads up to our small businesses that may have mercury-containing devices. There is currently MPCA grant funds available to cover the disposal costs of your mercury devices. Contact me as soon as possible if you would like to get set up for proper disposal of mercury-containing items and are seeking to use the grant funds. The funds are a first come, first serve basis.


The second item I will discuss is sodium hypochlorite, otherwise known as bleach. Most of the time it is safe to use for common household cleaning in the laundry or bathroom, et cetera.

The first thing to know is that chlorine should never be mixed with other cleaning chemicals – NEVER. That rule also applies to most of the other household cleaning products but mixing chlorine with other chemicals can become deadly.

Chlorine purchased off the shelf is usually 3 to 6 percent diluted with water but you will see a change or another bleach option on the shelf in 2023. Recently, the Clorox Company won a sustainability award for offering a new innovative way to supply its customers with the need for bleach. In an effort to use less plastic and save money on shipping costs, the Clorox Company will offer its bleach in smaller concentrated cap-refills. It makes sense, why pay to ship water? So the Clorox Company would like to sell a durable plastic container that we can reuse repeatedly and just refill it when we need to. It is a great idea but we need to be mindful of storing and using concentrated chemicals.

Other chemicals

I will list a few other potentially harmful chemicals that we can buy off the shelves. A quick list of other harmful chemicals that we need to use extra caution with are:

Muriatic acid - Used for cleaning concrete.

Hydrochloric acid - Used for cleaning drains.

Sodium hydroxide - Used in oven cleaners.

Potassium hydroxide - Used as a cleaning agent or in soap making.

Please always read directions before using these everyday products or ask a trained professional.

Our 2023 Tri County collection schedule is on our county web sites. The Blue Earth County Hazardous Waste Facility will be closed in March for cleaning and re-open in April. Visit us at tricountyrecycling.org or give us a call at (507) 381-9196.

Make every day Earth Day!


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