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Arizona Department of Environmental Quality Arizona's Official Website
">Arizona Children's Environmental Health Program: Environmental Risks

Household Hazardous Wastes

How household hazardous wastes affect children's health?

Household hazardous wastes are a diverse group of chemicals and exposure to them can cause a variety of harmful effects. Whether there will be any effect and if so, the type of effect, depends not only on the particular product and the amount taken into the body, but also on the frequency and duration of the contact.

How children are exposed to household hazardous wastes

Exposure may be the result of ingestion, inhaling gases or absorption through the skin. Hazardous products may effect the environment by contaminating the air, water and soil.

How children's exposure to household hazardous wastes can be reduced?

  • Purchase an amount that can be used up easily.
  • Use up old products before purchasing new ones.
  • If you can't use it up, follow the label's guide for proper disposal.
  • Take advantage of local household hazardous waste collection days or events.
  • Read and follow label safety directions.
  • Store out of children's reach by locking in a cupboard or setting on a high shelf.
  • Store in a dry place to prevent freezing.
  • Store away from heat or flames.
  • Do not mix products together.

Arsenic, Mercury, Lead and Cadmium

What are arsenic, mercury, lead, and cadmium?

Arsenic, mercury, lead, and cadmium are metals that occur naturally in soil, water, air, and dust. Since these compounds do not have any smell, it is difficult to tell when they are present. In the environment, arsenic, mercury, lead, and cadmium are usually found combined with other elements. The toxicity of these metals and their fate in the environment is determined by the complexes they form with these elements.

Arsenic compounds are common in soil and in rock, particularly ores. Most arsenic compounds can dissolve in water and, therefore, arsenic may occur in groundwater. Arsenic also may be released into the air as dust from soil or from the smelting of ores or burning of waste, such as arsenic-treated lumber. The principal commercial use of arsenic is as a wood preservative. The only other significant commercial use of arsenic is as a component of agricultural pesticides.

Mercury is present in coal and petroleum products and is released into the atmosphere by the burning of fossil fuels, such as gasoline, coal, and oil. Mercury travels long distances in air and is deposited in lakes where it accumulates in fish as methylmercury. Metallic mercury is used in thermometers, dental fillings, batteries, and in some skin-lightening creams.

Lead is found in the natural environment and in the past was added to many products, including paint. Humans are exposed to lead occupationally and from the environment as a result of mining, manufacturing, and burning of fossil fuels. Lead also is commonly found in house dust, especially in older homes (homes built before 1970) where lead-based paint was used.

Cadmium is used in batteries, metal plating, and fungicides; as an absorbent in nuclear reactors; and in the production of plastics and pigments. Cadmium is present in air as a result of burning of fossil fuels or municipal waste. Metal smelting operations or soldering may also release cadmium into the air. Mining activities, and industrial and hazardous wastes may release cadmium into groundwater. Levels of cadmium in soil may be increased by the use of sewage sludge or fertilizers contaminated with cadmium.

How can arsenic, mercury, lead, and cadmium affect children's health?

The presence of arsenic, mercury, lead, and cadmium in the environments of young children is of particular concern: first, because children's behavior is more likely to result in exposure and, second, because these metals affect the nervous system and, particularly, the nervous system as it is developing. The potential for harmful effects from these metals depends on many factors, including the amount of the exposure, how long exposure continues, and how contact occurs. Other factors include age, sex, diet, family traits, lifestyle, and state of health.

Some symptoms associated with high mercury and lead exposures are tremors, memory problems, and changes in vision or hearing. High mercury exposures may affect a developing fetus and cause premature births, low birth weights, decreased mental ability, or reduced growth.

Symptoms associated with high inorganic arsenic exposures are nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abnormal heart rhythm, and a "pins and needles" sensation in hands and feet. Long term exposure to inorganic arsenic may cause cancer, and the appearance of small "corns" or "warts" on the palms, soles of the feet, and torso.

Cadmium primarily affects the kidneys and the skeletal system. Over a lifetime, most people are exposed to low levels of cadmium with no observed ill effects. However, cadmium accumulates in the body, and high exposures over time can cause bone pain, fractures, and kidney failure.

Some children are at greater risk from exposure to metals than others. Children living in houses built prior to 1970 are more likely to be exposed to lead paint and dust. Also, children who eat fish frequently or eat highly contaminated fish may be exposed to high levels of methylmercury.

How might children be exposed to arsenic, mercury, lead, and cadmium?

Most people are exposed to low levels of arsenic, mercury, lead, and cadmium on a daily basis because these metals are naturally found in the environment. Exposure may occur through breathing, eating and drinking, and incidental ingestion (i.e., eating lead-based paint chips, dust). Secondhand smoke contains arsenic and cadmium and may contribute to exposure. Arsenic may also naturally occur in drinking water. Lead, may be present in drinking water, as a result of lead pipes or lead solder.

The most common source of cadmium exposure is food. Grains and leafy vegetables absorb cadmium from contaminated soil or water. Cadmium, methylmercury, and arsenic all tend to bioaccumulate in the food chain, so that certain foods, such as fish or shellfish, may contain these metals. Mercury is an alloy in dental fillings and may be released from fillings. Lead may be present in dust, especially house dust, as a result of the use of lead-based paint. Young children who exhibit extensive hand-to-mouth activity are more likely than adults to be exposed to metals in dust and soil.

How can I protect my child from exposure to arsenic, mercury, lead, and cadmium?

  • Dust areas in your home regularly. Wet wash window wells, sills, and floors.
  • Wash your child's hands with soap and water before eating, naps, and bedtime.
  • Wash bottles, teething rings, and toys with soap and water.
  • Don't let your child eat or chew on anything that may have lead paint on it.
  • Look for teeth marks on the woodwork in your home.
  • Take your shoes off at the door so that soil and dust are not tracked into the house.
  • Make sure that your child has a balanced diet that includes enough calcium, iron, protein, and zinc. Nutritional deficiencies can increase the absorption and the effects of exposure to harmful metals.
  • Use care when handling and disposing of thermometers, batteries, and other consumer products that contain mercury, cadmium, or lead. Take advantage of local household hazardous waste collection days or events.
  • If you have hobbies that involve welding, soldering, or ceramic or glass glazing, perform them outside the home or in a well-ventilated area away from children.
  • Adults working in jobs where metals are used should shower and change clothes and shoes before coming home to prevent bringing these metals into their homes. This includes painters, remodelers, and workers in smelters, battery plants, radiator, or auto body shops.
  • If you smoke, smoke outdoors and in areas away from children. Avoid areas where your child may be exposed to secondhand smoke.