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Department of Public Works
Department of Public Works

CLEANING HOUSE FEEDS POLLUTION OF THE SAN FRANCISCO BAY;
GIVES FISH AND WILDLIFE "SPRING FEVER"

Clean Up Bay Area Waters By Shopping For
Environmentally Friendly Household Products

(ALAMEDA COUNTY, Calif.) Spring's return to the Bay Area is heralded by new blossoms on brightly colored spring flowers, the opening of the baseball season, and the urge to clean house -- literally and figuratively. An urge to clean in and around the house, garage, storage facilities and more.

Unfortunately, spring cleaning also translates to increased use -- and often, improper disposal -- of household cleaners, solvents and chemicals: ordinary cleaning, polishing and painting products contain ingredients that can be hazardous and can contaminate Bay Area waters. The result is a growing problem with pollution in the San Francisco Bay Area as these products make their way from Alameda County - and all Bay Area - homes to creeks and the Bay via storm drain sewers, household drains, and landfills.

While some household products can be thrown away in local landfills, many products can present health hazards to sanitation workers. In addition, if spilled such products can leach into ground water and enter storm drain sewers via urban runoff. Additionally, while many household products are safe to pour down the household drains, some can interfere with the sewage treatment process and flow to the Bay without treatment.

Urban runoff pollution, another name for storm water pollution, is caused when water from garden hoses, sprinklers or rainfall washes pollutants such as used motor oil, antifreeze, paint, and fertilizer off driveways, sidewalks and city streets into storm drain sewers. From there, the contaminated water flows untreated into local creeks and the Bay. According to the California State Water Resources Control Board, storm water pollution is the number one cause of water pollution in California. Each year, more than 85 billion gallons of untreated, contaminated water flows into the Bay from Alameda County storm drain sewers alone.

"Cleaning house is a natural Spring activity. Unfortunately, spring cleaning often leads to careless use and disposal of common household products, which contribute heavily to water pollution in the Bay Area," says Sharon Gosselin, public information/participation coordinator for the Alameda Countywide Clean Water Program (Clean Water Program). "However, by purchasing environmentally-friendly products and using non-toxic alternatives, residents can clean house without polluting the environment."

Tidy Up Without Toxic Compounds 

According to Gosselin, many common household products contain hazardous ingredients. Gosselin offers the following tips on how to shop for environmentally friendly products, and how to use and dispose of them with the least impact on the environment:

  • Read labels before buying household cleaners and other products. Become an environmentally friendly consumer by avoiding products that contain toxic ingredients, being particularly careful with the following types of products: degreasers, drain cleaners, moth balls, oven cleaners, spot removers/cleaning fluids, paint thinners and strippers. Even products labeled as "bio-degradable" can pose a threat to fish and wildlife.
  • Buy only as much of a household chemical as you need. Use carefully to minimize wastes and spills. Store leftovers in sturdy, air-tight, labeled containers and use them up or give to friends rather than throwing potentially toxic chemicals away.
  • Use safe substitutes. Most household cleaning challenges can be met with baking soda, salt, borax, vinegar, water and elbow grease -- in one combination or another. Gosselin offers the following examples. For a more complete list of safe substitutes, contact the Clean Water Program at (510) 670-5543:

    Deodorizers -- For carpets, mix 1 part borax with 2 parts cornmeal; spread liberally and vacuum after an hour.

    Metal Polishes -- For silver, boil for three minutes in 1 quart of water, 1 tablespoon of baking soda, 1 tablespoon of salt, and a piece of aluminum foil (Keep foil in contact with silver.)

  • Dispose of household products and hazardous materials properly. Due to the huge variety of household products, there is no one disposal method that is appropriate for all. Some materials, such as unwanted or unused chemicals or paints should be taken to a hazardous waste disposal facility. However, other household products may simply be thrown away. For information about proper storage and disposal of household chemicals, contact the Clean Water Program.
  • Do not pour toxic paints, cleaners, or solvents down the sink or toilet, and never down the storm drain sewer.

For More Information... 

These and other tips on how to help prevent contamination of local creeks and the San Francisco Bay are available by contacting the Alameda Countywide Clean Water Program at 951 Turner court, Room 300, Hayward, CA 94545. The telephone number is (510) 670-5543.

The Clean Water Program is a partnership of Alameda County and its 14 city governments. Formed in 1989 to control pollution in urban runoff water, the program is committed to preventing stormwater pollution by promoting common sense practices for preventing anything but rainwater from entering the storm drain sewer system. The program has targeted its efforts towards the commercial, industrial, municipal and residential audiences.

The Clean Water Program is governed by representatives from each of its member agencies, which include: Alameda County; Alameda County Flood Control and Water Conservation District; Zone 7 of the Alameda Flood Control District; and the cities of Alameda, Albany, Berkeley, Dublin, Emeryville, Fremont, Hayward, Livermore, Newark, Oakland, Piedmont, Pleasanton, San Leandro and Union City.

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