How do I Know if a Chemical is Dangerous? #1

This is a question I get asked a lot. Many people use home-brew cleaning concoctions in the mistaken belief that they cannot trust the products that they get from the supermarket. There seems to be a mindset that the companies that make these products put whatever the hell they want in their products just as long as it does the job, and to hell with safety.

There are two reasons why we know this isn’t the case.

  1. It would be a commercial disaster for them. If someone was harmed from using a product that they had sold, not only would they be sued (probably in a class action), but the bad publicity would be devastating. Consequently, they simply wouldn’t let this happen. Or if they bought a company with a product that was unsafe, they would withdraw it.

    An example of this is Pea-Beu Tri-Kill. Reckitt & Colman acquired Pea-Beu (and Exit Mould) from the Consumer Products Division of Ciba Geigy in 1985. Tri-Kill had been made as a direct competitor to Mortein Fast Knockdown, and you can still find ads for it online with the one-and-only Ted Bulpitt.  It was a potent product, mainly as it used a hydrocarbon as the solvent and propane (yes, propane) as the propellant. The result was a product with a spray rate of about 3.5g/sec (most fly sprays are about 2.5-2.8g/sec) which meant that you actually felt the recoil when you pressed the button. But the big problem was the flammability. With the propellant as propane and a hydrocarbon solvent it was a flamethrower. In fact there were several reports of people that had used it and then lit a match to light a cigarette. There weren’t any fatalities, but a few singed hairs. So it was withdrawn from the shelves pronto.

    There are a couple of other examples of this that I can think of, but you can take it from me that no company wants to sell a product that will damage things or people.

  2. They aren’t allowed to. Anyone that sells any chemical to the general public must get a licence from the APVMA, a federal body that regulates the use of chemicals both domestically and commercially. And they are extremely conservative – they will ban a chemical at the drop of a hat. For companies to sell oven cleaners, bathroom cleaners, fly sprays and so on, they must satisfy this body that the chemicals are not harmful in any sense of the term. Other countries (particularly SE Asia are not nearly so strictly regulated) but Australia certainly is.

In my next post we will look at the difference between Dangerous and Hazardous.

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