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Beware of Hazardous Materials in Barns, Shops

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Growing up, I remember going to my great-uncle's farm and looking through his barn/shop. Behind the old wooden doors, jugs of herbicides and insecticides, barrels of oil and grease, tools, his welder and whatever implements or tractor he had taken apart covered the dirt floor. When the floor got in bad shape, he would occasionally throw a shovel or two of soil over the top to "clean it up." Over the many years he used that old barn, there was no telling what had dripped, leaked or been knocked over and spilled.

Honestly, did any of you visualize your barn or shop as I was describing this one?

About five years ago, I became a member of our town's volunteer fire department. Firefighter I certification requires us to recognize hazardous materials. Sounds like it would be hard to find hazardous materials, doesn't it? Truth be told, if you took all the materials commonly found in your barn or shop and placed them on the side of the road, you'd have to call a hazardous materials response team to clean them up. Grease, old oil, parts solvent, pesticides, antifreeze and other materials all need special handling, storage and disposal.

Used motor oil
While not a controlled hazardous material, used oil contains heavy metals and is toxic to many plants and animals. The Environmental Protection Agency now uses the slogan "You dump it, you drink it" to emphasize the harmful effects of illegal disposal methods. Look for oil recycling programs where you can return your used motor oil and oil filters.

Ethylene glycol is usually found in antifreeze, and it is poisonous. Children and animals are attracted to its bright color and sweet smell. Store antifreeze in sealed containers in a cool, secure location. Never dump antifreeze into septic tanks, storm drains or directly onto the ground. Treat all spills with an absorbent such as kitty litter, and dispose of the absorbent in a sealed bag in the trash.

First and always, read the label! Are you storing your pesticides according to the labeled directions? Are you storing them in a locked, well-ventilated room? Label windows and doors to alert firefighters to the presence of pesticides and other products stored in the structure. It is always a good idea to keep a list of the stored chemicals and amounts in a separate location. Did I happen to mention you need to read the label?

Other materials
How are you storing grease, paint, automatic transmission fluid, solvents and diesel fuel? Some are flammable, others toxic, still others relatively harmless. Read the material safety data sheets (MSDS) that are available from the manufacturers. MSDS cover proper medical precautions, storage, handling and disposal methods required for each substance.

Do you know what to do in case of a fire or accident at your barn or shop? Take time to visit with your fire department and discuss precautions you can take. Knowing the hazards and following the storage and use guidelines keeps everyone safe. This is especially true of hazardous materials around the barn and shop.