Environmental Health
Healthy Home Environment
Household Hazardous Materials
  Household Hazardous Materials  

How Household Hazardous Wastes
Affect Thurston County

  Accidental Poisonings  l  Ground and Surface Water  l

Stormwater  l  Septic Systems  l  More Links

Household hazardous products such as oil-based paints, paint thinner, pesticides, used motor oil, antifreeze, and strong cleaners can enter the environment during use, when they are discarded in the garbage, poured down the drain, spilled accidentally, or are dumped outside.

The hazardous chemicals can contaminate ground and surface water, impact septic systems, enter stormwater and cause fish kills, injure garbage collectors, and add to the flammability and toxic effects of house fires. They also can harm us directly, through unintended side-effects, improper use, or accidental poisoning.

  What we do around our homes can have a big impact
on our health and the environment.

Accidental Poisonings

Children are most at risk from accidental poisoning by household chemicals. In 2004, the Washington Poison Center received over 11,000 calls about children under 6 years old who may have been accidentally poisoned. The most common products they got into were: household cleaners, antimicrobials, deodorizers, cosmetics, paints, pesticides, fertilizers, and automotive products.

  • Poisonings are most common in children ages one and two.
  • Adults get poisoned, too; more than 30% of the calls the Poison Center receives involved adults.
  • Adult poisonings result in more deaths and serious injuries than any other age group.
  • Failing to read and follow directions for using household chemicals and medicine are common reasons adults are poisoned.
  • Pets are also at risk, especially from pesticides and antifreeze.

For a list of some common household hazardous products and their health effects, see Hazards of Household Materials.

Ground and Surface Water

Ground water is the source of drinking water for 99 percent of Thurston County. Only two communities, Summit Lake and Lake St. Clair, have substantial populations that use lake water. The rest of the roughly 205,000 Thurston County residents are supplied by individual, community, or public wells fed by ground water from sand and gravel aquifers. For information on how to protect and test home wells, see Thurston County's Drinking Water Program.

Because of the County's geology, our aquifers are very vulnerable to contamination. Thousands of years ago, retreating glaciers left porous deposits of sand and gravel over the original bedrock that are are excellent for storing rainfall. These sand and gravel aquifers are almost totally recharged by rainfall in the immediate area. Rain soaks into the soil and can pick up pollution as it seeps down towards the aquifers. More than 40 incidents of ground water contamination from hazardous materials have been reported in the County. (Northern Thurston County Ground Water Management Plan: Summary Report, Thurston County Health Department, 1993)

School of fishThurston County has several major rivers and streams that carry runoff and ground water from inland areas to Puget Sound or the Pacific Ocean. Puget Sound, which forms the northern boundary of the county, is well known for commercial and recreational fishing and shellfishing, as well as general recreation.

A 1997 study found that the most frequently detected pesticide in streams entering Puget Sound is 2,4-D, a common herbicide used on home lawns. (U.S. Dept of the Interior and the WA Dept of Ecology, 1997, "Pesticides in Selected Small Streams in the Puget Sound Basin, 1987-1995") See Weed and Feed for fertilizer information.

2,4-D is also highly toxic to salmon.(World Health Organization. 1989. 2,4-Dichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4-D): Environmental aspects. (No. 84, 1989). Geneva, Switzerland)

For additional information, see Thurston County's Surface Water Program.


Stormwater is water from rain that does not immediately soak into the ground. Instead, it flows across hard surfaces such as driveways, lawns, and roofs, and picks up pesticides and fertilizers, pet waste, oil and other pollutants.

This runoff flows into street drains and ditches which carry it to streams and Puget Sound, or into the soil where it can seep into ground water. The runoff does not enter a sewer-type treatment plant to be cleaned.

For information on keeping your property from adding to pollution downstream, see The Problem with Stormwater Runoff and How to Help.

Septic Systems

Approximately 40,000 homes in Thurston County are on septic Systems. Septic systems are not designed to treat household hazardous wastes. Septic system owners need to be careful about what goes down the drain, so they do not damage the septic system and possibly create a situation where sewage is surfacing or chemicals are entering surface or ground water. For information on caring for your septic system, see Septic System Maintenance.

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This page last updated: 09/06/17