Household Chemical Inventory and Assessment



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Resources/Waste: Home Chemicals


Chemical Connections

Chemicals are everywhere, in the air you breathe, in the food you eat, and in the chair you’re sitting on. Moreover, you’re mostly chemicals. Ninety nine percent of the human body is composed of just 6 chemical elements: oxygen, carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, calcium, and phosphorus. After you die, you’ll decompose into hydrogen, nitrogen, water, ammonia, carbon dioxide, phosphoric acid, and sulfuric acid. So, from chemicals we come and to chemicals we go.

Fig. 1: Periodic Table (NASA)

Chemical elements are substances that contain one kind of atom and cannot be separated into simpler substances. There are 116 known chemical elements, of which 91 occur naturally. The other 25 are man-made. These elements are listed in the periodic table. Go to Scroll down below the table and you’ll see the elements listed. Many of them will be familiar to you.

Chemical compounds are formed by the combination of two or more elements. The one you’re probably most familiar with is H20, two parts hydrogen and one part oxygen, also known as water. Other common compounds include sodium chloride (NaCl) or salt, glucose (C12H22O11) or sugar, and CH3COOC6H4COOH or aspirin. Chemicals are used in a wide range of industrial and commercial applications including plastics, adhesives, absorbents, fertilizers, detergents, dyes, explosives, oils, inks, lubricants, metals, paper, insecticides, pharmaceuticals, solvents, waxes, photography, food additives and on and on. So, you see, chemicals are everywhere.

There are several ways to classify chemicals. Organic chemicals are those chemicals that contain the element carbon, C. Organic chemicals can be broken down by micro-organisms and reactions with other chemicals, as well as photo chemically by ultraviolet or visible light. The rate at which a chemical degrades is expressed as half-life, the amount of time it takes for half of the chemical to be converted into some other chemical or element. Generally, organic chemicals biodegrade or decompose more rapidly than inorganic chemicals, which do not contain carbon. Inorganic chemicals include salt, asbestos, and silicates as well as minerals such as iron, aluminum, and phosphorus, among others.

Chemicals can also be either natural or synthetic. Natural chemicals are those which are found occurring in the environment which are not introduced by humans. Synthetic chemicals are those which are developed by humans and do not exist in nature. It might be easy to assume that natural, organic chemicals are less harmful to humans. This is not the case as many poisons come from plants and animals.

Chemicals in Your Home

This exercise involves conducting an inventory of the types of chemicals in your home. As this is a multi-part exercise, it might be wise to save the exercise to disk or your hard drive and then use the saved file for completing your answer. This way you won’t lost any of the work you’ve completed if you machines freezes or crashes.

Activity – Household Chemical Inventory and Assessment

Identify one product that you use for each of the categories on the Activity Sheet. If you do not use a particular category of product, simply enter the phrase “do not use” and explain why. For example, if you do not use pet care products, enter “do not use” in the “Product Name” column and “do not have a pet” in the “What the Warning Says” column.

For each product identified that you do use indicate the following:

1. The product name

2. What the product does, also known as the product “service”

3. Whether there is some type of warning about using the product.

4. What the warning says.

Answer questions 1 & 2 on the Activity Sheet when you have completed the inventory.

After doing this, select three products from your household product list which you think may be “hazardous” based on the warnings listed on the products. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency defines hazardous as any material that is ignitable, corrosive, explosive, or toxic to humans, plants or animals. List the three products on the Activity Sheet.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) maintains a database that contains a wide variety of information on over 5,000 consumer products. Information contained in the data base includes the chemical ingredients, the manufacturer and contact information, as well as any possible acute and chronic effects associated with the chemicals that make up the products.

Go to the NIH website at the following link In the Quick Search box on the left side of the screen, look up the first potentially hazardous product you have listed. Scroll down the page until you come to the link “What is an MSDS?” and follow the directions on the remainder of the Activity Sheet and answer the questions. Please note: As of 2013 manufacturer required reporting has changed from the MSDS to the SDS (Safety Data Sheets). However, the NIH website still continues to use information from the MSDS. More information on these changes can be found on the websites below.


ESA21: Environmental Science Activities

Activity Sheet

Home Chemicals


Product Category Product Name What Product Does Warning (yes/no) What the Warning Says
Auto Products
Personal Care
Arts & Crafts
Inside the Home
Landscape & Yard
Home Maintenance
Pet Care

1. (5 points) Was this inventory difficult to complete? Why or why not?

2. (5 points) Are you surprised by the results of the inventory? If so, in what way?

Potentially Hazardous Products
1. 2. 3.


3. (5 points) What does the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) describe?

4. (5 points) Who develops or prepares the MSDS?

5. (5 points) Does the MSDS provide any health effects or first aid information?

6. (5 points) Who is the primary audience for the MSDS?

7. (5 points) Are MSDS relevant to consumers?

Click the “Back” link on your browser to go back to the first product’s ranking and answer the following questions.

8. (5 points) What is the health rating for your product? (Note: Your product may not have a health rating. If it does not, choose another product that does. The health rating can be found under “Health Effects.”

9. (5 points) What does that rating mean?

10. (5 points) What is the flammability rating for your product?

11. (5 points) What does that rating mean?

12. (5 points) What is the reactivity rating for your product?

13. (5 points) What does that rating mean?

Now scroll up the site until you come to the section marked acute health effects and chronic health effects. Answer the following questions.

14. (5 points) What does the website say about any acute health effects from the product?

15. (5 points) What does the website say about any chronic health effects from the product?

16. (5 points) What is the difference between an acute and chronic health effect?

17. (5 points) Based on your research/analysis, how hazardous is the product?

Go back to the NIH website and research your other two products. If a product you selected is not listed, pick another product from your original list of eight. At the conclusion of this step in the exercise, you should have looked up and found results for 3 products.

18. (5 points) Rank order your 3 products based on your assessment of how hazardous they are and list below from most to least hazardous.

Hazardous Ranking

19. (5 points) Explain you answer. Why did you choose the ranking that you did?

20. (5 points) How comprehensive do you feel the information provided by the website is regarding the hazardous nature of household products?

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