People are terrified that COVID-19 coronavirus is lurking on every surface they touch. As a result, they’re pouring gallons of hand sanitizer on themselves and using often toxic cleaning and sanitizing products on every surface around them. The result? Poison reports are spiking.
Poison control and 911 call centers have seen a greater than 20% spike in reports of poisoning by household cleaners and disinfectants in the first three months of 2020. Mothers and fathers are being overwhelmed by the toxic fumes of surface cleaners. Children are swallowing things like hand sanitizer. Many of them are winding up in the emergency room, likely the last place they want to be when trying to avoid COVID-19 coronavirus.
Our national obsession with cleaning away the Chinese coronavirus may be killing us in other ways. According to a new Centers for Disease Control report, data from poison centers backs this idea up.
“Exposures to cleaners and disinfectants reported to NPDS [the National Poison Data System] increased substantially in early March 2020,” noted a team led by Dr. Arthur Chang, a researcher at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
While it’s true that cleaning products are toxic to bacteria, viruses and other pathogens, most are also toxic to humans. This is especially true with chronic overuse or when they are improperly mixed or mixed together.
“While cleaning your home and your hands is important in reducing your risk for COVID-19, it’s also important that you take the proper precautions to reduce a toxic exposure, which can lead to an ER visit,” said emergency physician Dr. Robert Glatter, of Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.
Bleach creates the highest number of poison cases related to household cleaners. It accounted for the largest percentage of the increase in reports to the National Poison Data System (NPDS) from 2019 to 2020. Non-alcohol disinfectants and hand sanitizers also made the list.
According to Dr. Chang, in one instance an adult woman heard on the news to clean all recently purchased groceries before consuming them,” Chang’s group said. Going perhaps a little too far, “she filled a sink with a mixture of 10% bleach solution, vinegar and hot water, and soaked her produce.”
Fumes filled her kitchen, her lungs filled with fumes and her breathing became labored and her head became a cloudy mess. Luckily, she was able to call 911. She was treated with oxygen and bronchodilators in the ER and was able to return home with little more than a hard lesson in home chemistry.
“The combination of bleach with vinegar produces toxic chlorine gas,” Glatter noted. “Lack of proper ventilation can place you at risk for a toxic exposure, which could be deadly.”
According to Chang’s team, kids under 5 consistently represent the largest portion of the increased poison calls. Many are the result of children drinking hand sanitizer or getting caustic cleaners in their eyes.
In one case, a preschooler had drunk enough hand sanitizer to drive her blood alcohol level to 273 milligrams per deciliter. For reference, you’re considered drunk in most states if your blood alcohol reaches 80 mg/dL. Even if you’re not five years old. After a night in the pediatric ICU, she recovered, likely with a wicked hangover.
Glatter was clear that this should never have happened.
“It’s imperative that parents understand the potential for alcohol poisoning associated with hand sanitizer, since it typically contains at least 60-70% alcohol,” he said. “Children are at highest risk since they may think it is harmless to consume. Parents should never leave bottles of hand sanitizer in the vicinity of young children.”
Glatter also warned that “burns to the hand may also result from DIY hand sanitizer made with excessive levels of alcohol. Wearing gloves is essential to prevent this from occurring.” In fact, he urged the use of face masks and gloves whenever cleaning products are used at home.
The CDC report was reviewed by Dr. Kenneth Spaeth, chief of occupational and environmental medicine at Northwell Health in Great Neck, N.Y. He backed up the idea that people need to be more careful around cleaners and disinfectants. He also wondered if militantly cleaning and re-cleaning every single thing in your home is the best defense against COVID-19.
Instead, “hand-washing and/or hand sanitizing is vitally important in reducing risk of exposure to COVID-19 and many other infectious agents,” Spaeth said. “Social distancing, use of a face covering when out in public, and hand hygiene are three most important strategies for reducing risk of exposure.”
Yes, keeping surfaces in your home and working environment is important and will help defend against COVID-19. But most cleaners, even most green cleaners, pose a risk for poisoning and other problems. If you’re looking for a company whose cleaning products literally pose zero poison risk, I can help you. Send me a message using the form below and I’ll get back to you with some info.
In the meantime, keep the faith and keep after it!
Journal Reference – Chang A, Schnall AH, Law R, et al. Cleaning and Disinfectant Chemical Exposures and Temporal Associations with COVID-19 — National Poison Data System, United States, January 1, 2020–March 31, 2020. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. ePub: 20 April 2020. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15585/mmwr.mm6916e1