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Fewer Kids Injured by Cleaning Products

Child-Resistant Packaging, Poison Control Hotline Helped Reduce Injuries
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

Aug. 2, 2010 -- The number of young children treated in hospital ERs because of exposure to cleaning products has dropped by almost half in less than two decades, but thousands of preventable injuries still occur every year, a new study finds.

Based on their analysis of 20 years of injury data, researchers from Columbus, Ohio’s Nationwide Children’s Hospital estimate that just over 267,000 children under age 6 were treated for poisoning or skin contact injuries related to cleaning products during a 17-year period between 1990 and 2006.

In 1990, about 10 young children out of 10,000 were treated for such exposures, compared to five in 10,000 in 2006, the researchers conclude.

The proliferation of child-resistant packaging and the advent of the national 800-222-1222 poison control hotline that can direct callers to regional poison control centers have played a role in the decline, says lead researcher Lara McKenzie, PhD, of Nationwide Children’s Center for Injury Research and Policy.

About two-thirds of the reported injuries involved ingestion poisoning and about one in seven involved chemical burns.

The study appears in the September issue of the journal Pediatrics.

"We have made a good deal of progress, but we could do better and there are still some areas of concern,” McKenzie tells WebMD.

Dangerous Combination: Spray Bottles and Bleach

These days, many household cleaning injuries to young children involve two things: bleach and spray bottles.

About 40% of reported injuries were caused by exposure to household bleach. An equal number involved spray bottles, which tend to be less child resistant than other packaging.

“Bleach is the product people most often put into other containers, like a spray bottle,” McKenzie says.

In 2008, 14,640 bleach-related poisonings and two deaths in children under age 6 were reported to poison control centers in the United States.

Because more and more household cleaners are being purchased from warehouse retailers where the packaging is huge, more and more consumers are putting the products into different bottles.

To a young child, electric blue glass cleaner, mouthwash, or antifreeze may look no different from a sports drink or other familiar beverage, Nationwide Children’s toxicologist Heath Jolliff, DO, tells WebMD.

“Most harmful products now come with child-resistant caps, but that doesn’t mean anything when products are put in different bottles,” he says. “Harmful cleaning products should never be transferred into bottles that kids can get into and all cleaning products, including spray bottles, should be locked away.”

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