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Sunday, December 11, 1994 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Household Environmentalist

Do Aerosol Sprays Affect The Ozone Layer? An Update

DEAR MS. H.E.: I just heard that an actual hole in our ozone layer has been discovered. A few weeks ago there was an article in your paper on threats to our ozone layer, including aerosol sprays.

For a long time I resisted buying any sprays of this kind, but finally succumbed and bought a can of no-stick cooking oil spray. The can states, "contains no chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs)." Still, I am uncomfortable and wonder if this last claim makes this product and the way it is packaged safe for our environment. If it is unsafe, should I throw the can away, or shall I use it up since the damage is already done because the can and the propellant already exist?

DEAR READER: Chlorofluorocarbons were banned for use in most aerosols in the United States and Canada in the 1970s, when it was determined that they were damaging the ozone layer. Today, fewer than 2 percent of aerosol cans use CFCs as a propellant, though, much to the aggravation of the aerosol industry, most people don't know that. (This is rather discouraging to us public-education types, too.)

While a great improvement over CFCs, many of the new propellants aren't exactly as pure as the driven snow. They contribute some of the same kinds of pollutants that come out of the tailpipe of your car. Because of this, indoor air-quality experts recommend that you use aerosols judiciously. But, if they live up to their claims, those spray oils are a great way to reduce your oil intake so it may be a worthwhile tradeoff.

Unfortunately, many community recycling programs do not accept aerosol cans for fear that minor explosions from punctured cans might harm workers. Here in Seattle, the trash utility and recycling folks would like you to know that empty aerosol cans should go into your trash can, not your recycling bin. Because of this, all else being equal, look for products in recyclable (or, better yet, reusable) glass bottles.

As to your last question - whether to toss polluting products rather than use them up - it doesn't apply, in this case, since your oil can contains no CFCs. But it is still a good question. What are you supposed to do with unwanted bottles and cans of possibly hazardous substances that are lurking beneath your sink and on your garage or basement shelves?

In most cases, experts recommend you simply use the product up, as directed on the label, then throw the empty container in your trash. Replace it with a less-toxic alternative.

However, if you have bottles or cans of household or automotive products that have been lying around for years, take special care. You may have old containers of carbon tetrachloride, a dangerous solvent, or now-banned pesticides, such as DDT, pentachlorophenol and chlordane. You may even have aerosol cans that still contain CFCs. In these cases, dispose of the containers and their contents as household hazardous waste.

If you're not sure about how to dispose of a product that might be hazardous, call King County's Hazards Line, 296-4692. If you are a business, call the county's Business Waste Line, 296-3976. In Pierce County, call 1-800-287-6429. In Thurston County, call 754-4348, or 1-800-624-1234, ext. 4348. In Snohomish County, call 388-3425; businesses that generate small quantities of hazardous waste should call 388-6473. The calls are free. If in doubt, don't throw it out without checking first.

If you are interested in learning about non-toxic alternatives to hazardous household products, send a self-addressed, stamped envelope to the Washington Toxics Coalition, 4516 University Way, N.E., Seattle, WA 98105 and ask for a publications list. The coalition's very inexpensive fact sheets are a great resource.

Hot tip

Second Use Building Materials Inc. has opened a used lumber and building materials yard in Woodinville. The company buys used lumber at demolition or remodeling sites, denails and trims it, and offers it for sale to the public at about 50 to 65 percent of the cost of equivalent, new material. This saves landfill space, saves you money and reuses a precious resource. The address is 23501 63rd Ave. S.E. in Woodinville, 402-0961. Call first, the company is operating on reduced hours during holidays. The company will also buy your used building materials, if they are salable.

Susan McGrath's column runs every two weeks in the Home/Real Estate section. Send questions and comments to: The Household Environmentalist, P.O. Box 70, Seattle, WA, 98111.

Copyright (c) 1994 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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