What are hazardous materials in early childhood settings?
A hazardous material (HAZMAT) is any substance that can be harmful to the health, property, or the environment. Hazardous materials are classified based on the health effects that they have. Another term that you need to recognize is dangerous goods. Dangerous goods (DG) are classified according to the immediate physical or chemical effects such as a fire, explosion, corrosion, and poisoning.
In early childhood, the term that we think of the most is poison. Sometimes I'll say HAZMAT and sometimes I'll say poison. But all of these are substances that could be harmful to children and adults in the early childhood setting. Poisons are any substance that can cause an unintended symptom, including severe organ damage or death. Notice it's unintended symptoms. For example, if an adult is taking heart medication, an intended result of taking that medication is it helps the heart. But if a child gets hold of that heart medication and takes it, then unintended symptoms that could occur could be severe organ damage.
HAZMATS may be liquids, solids, sprays, gases, or a combination of these types of products. The form that the material is in may increase the health risk of the product. HAZMATS can be ingested substances, they may be breathed in, injected, or absorbed through the skin, or in the case of aerosols, through the eyes. Any substances that can be harmful.
- Aerosol sprays
- Essential oils
- Lithium batteries
- Paints, thinner, remover
- Dry ice
- Nail polish/remover
- CO2 canisters
- Hand sanitizer
- Pool chemicals
If you look at transportation.gov or have done any flying in the airlines, you know that there is a list of hazardous materials that you cannot have. These include any aerosol sprays, bleaches, essential oils, fuels, lithium batteries, fertilizer, or hand sanitizer. Those are common ones. Let's talk about hand sanitizer. You can have a tiny amount of hand sanitizer as long as it's in a 3.4 ounce or smaller container that fits in your Ziploc bag, but you can't carry an entire bottle of hand sanitizer in your carry-on luggage because it's considered a hazardous material. Nail polish and remover are hazardous materials. When you look at the terms HAZMAT you have to look at who is actually defining them.
This Ask the Expert is an edited excerpt from the course, Avoiding Exposure to Hazardous Materials in ECE Settings, in partnership with Region 9 Head Start Association, by Charlotte Hendricks, PhD.