Olympia — A guide by the Washington Department of Ecology to educate consumers on the safe and proper disposal of hazardous household products was withdrawn from publication a decade ago under industry pressure and never re-issued, according to agency documents released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). As a result, virtually no environmental education materials discussing household products from the state are currently available to consumers.

“The Department of Ecology should be making information available so that Washingtonians can be part of the solution rather than merely uninformed contributors to our environmental problems,” stated Washington PEER Director Sue Gunn, who today sent a letter to Ecology asking the agency to publish an updated version of the 1993 guide entitled Turning the Tide on Toxics in the Home as well as other educational materials for consumers on issues such as global warming and energy efficiency.

Each year Washington consumers dispose of more than 14 million pounds of hazardous waste. Much of this material, from paints to pesticides, ends up in landfills, carrying the risk of harmful chemicals seeping into groundwater, or flushed into storm drains emptying into streams and, ultimately, Puget Sound.

The 51-page guide provided consumers with information about precautions that should be taken in handling a host of hazardous household products, as well as eco-friendly disposal practices and more benign alternatives. The guide covered 43 different types of products, ranging alphabetically from aerosols to wood preservatives.

An industry drive, spearheaded by the Chemical Specialties Manufacturers Association, to withdraw the guide began in 1995 and culminated in 1997 with the introduction of legislation that would have limited the ability of state or local agencies to provide information on substitutes for, or alternatives to, consumer products. While the legislation failed, Ecology suspended distribution of the Turning the Tide guide that year, despite requests for copies from universities, other state agencies and citizens.

In 1999, Ecology officials met with industry representatives to iron out industry objections to the state guide but the meeting ended inconclusively, and the guide remained out-of-print. Even today, Ecology provides no publications or environmental guides for consumers on household products.

“It is fair to characterize the actions by Ecology’s leadership in response to industry pressure against environmental education as feeble,” added Gunn. “It concerns me that Ecology so easily caves when it comes to simply providing information to the public – imagine what happens when the issue is taking enforcement action against corporate polluters or rejecting industry discharge permits.”

Ironically, the Oregon Department of Environmental of Quality has based its consumer guide (still available on its website) on hazardous household chemicals on the now-banned Washington guide.


See the banned 51-page guide Turning the Tide on Toxics in the Home
(allow a few moments to download)

Read the Washington PEER letter urging return to consumer environmental education

View a letter from the Chemical Specialties Manufacturers Association outlining objections to the guide

Compare the responses to these concerns from Ecology staff

Look at Oregon’s Hazardless Home Handbook based on the censored Washington guide

Scan the Environmental Education page of the Ecology website

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