Accidental poisonings with home cleaners are increasing in Canada, as more people who are self-isolating and quarantining at home take broader precautions by disinfecting surfaces and groceries.
Over February and March, there was a 58 percent increase in accidental domestic poisoning from the same period a year prior, according to the CBC. Cleaning products from disinfectants to hand sanitizers have been accidentally injected. Some have suffered the result of mistakenly mixing home chemicals, such as bleach and ammonia, which forms a deadly chlorine gas.
According to Health Canada, the most common poisoning has been as a result of bleach, which can be used to clean and disinfect surfaces. These were what comprised 38 percent of poison control center calls during March. April numbers have not yet been released.
The reasons that poisonings have increased is due to the simple fact that more people are home, and people have been cleaning vigorously to contain coronavirus spread within the home. There has also been a rise in the accidental poisoning of children from these home cleaning products, primarily because children are spending more time at home.
It’s important to know what kind of cleaning products you are using, and just what not to mix them with in order to avoid dangerous chemical reactions.
Dr. Jim Chan is a former Toronto health inspector, and he noted that Canadians should do a little research and make sure they know best how to use these cleaning products. The best resources, said Chan are government websites, such as Health Canada.
One of the most common mistakes, Chan said, is that people mix bleach based cleansers with ammonia based cleansers. The problem with this is that the resulting chlorine gas can be deadly. Many wipes contain ammonia, many other contain bleach. The same is true for liquid disinfectants and cleansers. If you don’t know which is which, read the label, and take precautions.
Ingesting alcohol based hand-sanitizers can also pose a risk, and this risk is higher for children, who may have frequent access to hand sanitizers, in order to disinfect little hands when they come in the house. But these products, while common, should not be left where kids can grab them, and they should certainly never be used unsupervised. Chan noted that the higher the alcohol content, the higher the risk of poisoning due to accidental ingestion.
"Accidental consumption, especially by kids, can be quite serious, so if you have kids at home, you have to be so careful because some of the alcohol-based sanitizers smell pretty good … like fruit,” Chan said.
Chan has set up a Facebook page where is he taking questions from the public, and sharing videos as to how best to safely mix cleaning products, and how to prevent accidental poisoning at home.
The US Centres for Disease Control have issued guidelines as to how to clean and disinfect. They recommend that people first decontaminate surfaces using soap and water, as soap and water, even cold water, can kill most germs, while removing dirt and impurities. This method should be used on “high touch surfaces,” such as tables, doorknobs, countertops and handles, desks, phones, bathroom and kitchen fixtures, like sinks, faucets and toilets.
The CDC recommends that people wear disposable gloves while handling disinfectants and chemical based cleansers, and to follow the instructions on the label. These often include directives to dilute the substance before use. Make sure you are using these items in a space that has proper ventilation, and check labels to see what the recommended uses are. Bleach should be used in its diluted form, about 5 tablespoons per gallon of water will do.
For soft surfaces and fabrics, wash with soap and water and launder per manufacturers’ instructions, using the highest temperature recommended for those materials. Wear gloves when handling laundry from a person who has been sick, and by all means, do not shake out the clothing before depositing it in the washer. Clothes hampers should also be disinfected.
If you or someone in your household is suspected of ingesting these chemicals, call poison control centers:
Alberta Poison: 1-800-332-1414; (403) 944-1414
British Columbia: 1-800-567-8911; (604) 682-5050
New Brunswick: 911
Newfoundland and Labrador: 1-866-727-1110; (709) 722-1110
Northwest Territories: 1-800-332-1414
Nova Scotia: 1-800-565-8161; (902) 470-8161
Ontario: 1-800-268-9017; (416) 813-5900
Prince Edward Island: 1-800-565-8161
Yukon Territory: (867) 393-8700