Household Chemicals

Stormwater pollution results when precipitation such as rain or snowmelt runs over surfaces picking up pollutants like pesticides, fertilizers, construction site sediments, pet waste, litter, etc. These pollutants can significantly degrade water quality and threaten aquatic, wildlife and human health. In addition, stormwater pollution impacts our drinking water supplies and use of waterways for recreational activities such as swimming, fishing or boating.   

Runoff from our lawns, rooftops, and driveways enter into the storm drain system. This system discharges directly to nearby streams, lakes, and bays without receiving treatment.  Because of this, it is important for us to prevent pollutants from being washed into these storm drains from our use and disposal of household chemicals.  

When household chemicals are either accidentally washed into a storm drain or intentionally dumped outside and drain into the stormwater system, it is referred to as an “illicit discharge.” Common examples of the materials that lead to household illicit discharges include:

  • Paint and paint thinner

  • Motor oil and gasoline

  • Antifreeze

  • Fertilizer, herbicides, and pesticides

  • Bleach, solvents and cleaners

  • Swimming pool chemicals and chlorinated water

The everyday products that we use can be very harmful if not stored, used, and disposed of properly. These products can be classified as:  toxic (pest fumigants, ant traps, and old fire extinguishers), corrosive (drain cleaners, rust removers and over cleaners), oxidizers (chlorinated pool chemicals and various peroxides), and flammables (gasoline, kerosene, fuel oil, butane, oil-based paints and paint thinners).  

If you have products that are no longer needed that contain hazardous materials, it is important to properly dispose of them.   Never dispose of them outside, allowing them to enter a storm drain because the stormwater runoff is not treated before flowing into our nearby waterways.  Many of these materials should also not be placed in the trash because this could lead to groundwater contamination as the materials leak from a landfill.  

Some tips and facts about household hazardous waste include:

  • As little as one quart of motor oil can contaminate millions of gallons of water.

  • Used motor oil can be re-refined into re-usable lubricating oil. Reprocessing one gallon of used motor oil and burning it as fuel generates enough electricity to power everything in your home for a day.   

  • Don’t rinse paint brushes outside where the rinse water can enter the stormwater system.  Clean water-based paint brushes in the sink and oil-based paint brushes by using paint thinner. If possible try to use water based paints!

  • Keep paints and solvents in sealed containers where they cannot become pollutants.

  • Recycle all unused paints at local Hazardous Waste Collection Centers.  

  • Avoid over applying fertilizers and pesticides, or applying them immediately before it rains!

  • For all household materials try to purchase and use non-toxic alternative when possible. 

All materials should be used and disposed of in accordance with manufacturer specifications. The best way to dispose of household chemicals is to take them to a local hazardous waste recycling center or to participate in a local waste collection event. Visit to learn about local waste recycling efforts here in Hampton Roads and more you can do to prevent stormwater pollution. 

Thanks for reading this article and hopefully you can incorporate some of the techniques discussed into your everyday habits to help protect our local waterways!

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