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INFO / CLEANERS & HEALTH / Chemical Burns and Poisoning Accidents

Chemical Burns and Poisoning Accidents

Many household cleaners can cause severe damage when ingested or splashed directly onto the skin and eyes. Though Americans are aware of the acute toxicity of some cleaning supplies, statistics on hospital visits and poison control calls make clear that accidents with cleaning supplies occur daily.

Chemical burns from caustic cleaners

Cleaning products that are extremely acidic or alkaline or contain corrosive ingredients can cause painful burns to the skin and eyes and permanent tissue damage or scarring. Inhaling fumes from these products can harm the lungs. Cleaning professionals can suffer serious chemical injuries on the job.

A 1999 study found that every year, for example, 6 of every 100 building custodians in Santa Clara County, Calif., experienced chemical-related injuries; 20 percent were serious burns to the eyes or skin (Barron 1999).

A review of records of 94 patients admitted to a hospital burn unit for chemical burns over a 19-year period found that 14 percent were injured at home with ordinary household cleaning products (Wibbenmeyer 1999).

One of the most serious immediate hazards is the formation of high levels of harmful gases when strongly reactive cleaning products are mixed. Bleach-based products pose the greatest hazard. Chloramine gas forms when bleach- and ammonia-based cleaners are mixed. Chlorine gas forms when bleach-based cleaners are mixed with acidic cleaners such as toilet bowl cleaners, rust removers or vinegar.

Poison under the sink

In 2010, American poison control centers fielded more than 116,000 calls about household cleaner accidents involving children under age five (Bronstein 2011). U.S. emergency room records show that in 2006 alone, 10,318 children under age five required some form of medical treatment as a result of poisoning with household cleaners, and 744 of them had symptoms that were life-threatening or resulted in significant disability (McKenzie 2010).

Bleach was the most common cause of poisoning or injury (McKenzie 2010). Spray bottles of cleaners were the most common means of exposure, involved in 40 percent of the accidents (McKenzie 2010). Although rates of household cleaner-related injuries to children from regular bottles or original containers and kitchenware have decreased in recent decades, spray bottle injury rates remain high (McKenzie 2010). Many common spray cleaners have brightly colored packaging that fascinates inquisitive young children. Parents sometimes neglect to twist the cleaners’ spray nozzles into an “off” position or children reopen closed nozzles.

These injuries are tragic – and unnecessary. There are safer cleaning products on the market that do not risk lasting damage to small explorers.

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