Washington Poison Center sees increase in poison exposure calls during pandemic

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SEATTLE - As cleaning supplies remain low throughout the state, some are resorting to making their own cleaning concoctions. Others are misusing cleaning products they already have.

In either case, the nonprofit Washington Poison Center, which provides a year-round poison hotline, said they have noticed a 23% increase in poison exposure calls since the beginning of the year. Many household cleaning product exposures are related to COVID-19 transmission concerns and precautions, according to WAPC.

"It is important that people follow good hand hygiene and disinfecting practices in households and businesses. However, it is also important to read labels carefully, follow instructions, and only use substances for their intended use," says Dr. Erica Liebelt, WAPC Medical Director. "We are seeing adverse and toxic effects in people of all ages. These exposures are preventable with simple strategies."

According to WAPC, some of the examples of exposure include:

  • People mixing cleaning chemicals together, which can inadvertently produce a toxic gas.
  • Using bleach and hydrogen peroxide to wash hands and faces.
  • Using chemicals to wash and disinfect groceries or fresh produce.

And because protective masks are running low too, according to the WAPC, people have resorted to using unconventional ways to clean them.

"We’ve had some exposures where people are directly applying bleach or other chemicals to their masks to clean them. When they do so, they’re inhaling toxic fumes when they put those masks back on. It’s best to just wash them with regular laundry, or soap and water," said WAPC spokesperson Meghan King.

WAPC recommends the following steps to prevent people from getting hurt.

  • Wear gloves and open windows when cleaning.
  • Don't mix cleaning products.
  • Don't clean products on food.
  • Store cleaners away from kids.
  • Supervise kids, even when using hand sanitizer.

"We’ve also seen a lot of exposures in kids. That’s probably one of our main ones. I mean, parents are really distracted right now. It’s really easy for a child to get into something that’s not stored safely. That’s why we always recommend folks to keep stuff out of sight, out of reach," said King.

According to WAPC, there has been an 83% increase in the amount of hand sanitizer exposure reports compared to 2019.

The Washington Poison Center is staffed by licensed nurses and pharmacists who specialize in toxicology.

Their Helpline is 1-(800)-222-1222. Calls are confidential and free.

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