YOU would be surprised how many toxic products you can find in your kitchen cupboard, hidden in everything from oven and drain cleaners to personal care products. They are a hazard, not only to you and your family when they are used or misused, but to the environment when they are first manufactured and finally disposed of. Millions of dollars are spent each year on advertising by the manufacturers to convince us that household chemicals are necessary and will make our lives more convenient, when in fact they are harmful. Even ordinary household cleaners, which are not usually poisonous to humans, are harmful to the environment - most households use far more of these than they need. Never think you don't make a difference. Each small amount of detergent or bleach poured down the drain all adds up. Multiply a small amount of chemicals in your sewage by six million people and you find that household detergents are a significant source of toxic substances in sewage. In addition to sewage, a study in the US found that nickel-cadmium batteries, the kind used in small appliances and electronic devices, were the largest source of cadmium (a heavy metal that may cause lung damage) in the waste stream. Don't think only industry causes pollution! There are many cheap and convenient natural alternatives that you can use instead if you are in the know - so take a careful look at what poisons are lurking in your cupboards and see if you can find a better substitute. First read the labels to see what chemicals are contained in the product - it should have a warning label if the product is hazardous. Always follow the instructions carefully, and it is always a good idea to use less than you think you need. Toilet bleaches are usually made from hypochlorite (smells like the swimming pool) or ammonium based compounds. You never mix these as hazardous ammonia gas is given off. In any case, chemical fumes should not be breathed in. Oven cleaners are usually strong alkalis such as sodium hydroxide. As an alternative, sprinkle sodium bicarbonate (used in baking) and water and scour with steel wool pads. Air fresheners don't freshen the air - they deaden your nasal passages and contain chemicals like naphthalene, ethanol and xylene. Open the window or use natural aromatherapy oil burners, or have bowls of natural pot-pourri. Mothballs are made of paradichlorobenzene which is harmful to your liver and kidneys. Use cedar chips or balls instead. In addition to household cleaners, other potentially hazardous products around your home include paint and solvents, wood treatment chemicals, motor products, such as oils and brake fluids, pharmaceuticals, pesticides used for plants and pets, and household batteries. As alternatives use water based paints and wood preservatives rather than oil based ones. Check with a pharmacist or your doctor how to dispose of surplus medicines. Rather than disposable batteries, many of which contain toxic metals, you should use rechargeable batteries or direct electric current. For the hazards and alternatives for household pesticides, see the Earthwise issue of July 26, '94. To reduce your household's impact on the environment, here's what you can do. Reduce the amount you use by buying only what you need for a particular job. Lastly, but most importantly, substitute by choosing less toxic alternatives or using non-chemical remedies. Friends of the Earth is a local non-profit environmental organisation. For more information, call 2528-5588.