Photo Credit: Image Source/Getty
Only a handful of children have ingested gasoline or other toxic household chemicals that contain hydrocarbons on his watch. But Dr. Vincenzo Maniaci, now a pediatric emergency room physician at Miami Children's Hospital, remembers them all -- including a toddler who drank an insecticide and died three days later.
"Parents may have a small amount of cleaning fluid or other household item that is in an empty water bottle and kids pop the bottle open, drink it and get sick or die," Maniaci said.
Many will gasp and think that this could never happen to their children, but new research shows that hydrocarbons -- chemicals found in gasoline, kerosene, lighter fluid and some insecticides and cleaning supplies -- are among the top 10 causes of pediatric poisoning deaths in the United States.
Although the number declined between 2000 and 2009 due to changes in packaging laws and public awareness, these deaths still occur and tend to happen more frequently during the summer months when activities such as mowing lawns and the use of tiki torches and lighter fluid for outdoor cooking are more commonplace. Specifically, 31 percent of hydrocarbon exposure incidents were reported during the summer, with 17 percent to 19 percent during the winter months, the new study showed.
From 2000 to 2009, more than 66,000 calls were made to regional poison centers and more than 40,000 emergency-room visits were reported due to exposure to hydrocarbons among children under the age of 5. The findings appear online May 6 and in the June print issue of the journal Pediatrics.
"If it is toxic, it has to be locked up and away, and you should never pour remains of a solvent into a bottle. That is looking for a problem," said Maniaci, who was not associated with the new study.
Researchers from the Central Ohio Poison Center and the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus reported that most hydrocarbon-related incidents occurred in boys and children aged 1 to 2 years. Gasoline was most commonly associated with emergency-room visits and calls to poison centers. Such exposures typically occurred during the refueling of a car. The study found that most incidents occurred at home. When parents called their regional poison centers, their cases were mostly managed at home without a visit to the emergency room.
"Hydrocarbons sound like something you would not have in your house, but it is found in so many household items from cleaning products and gasoline to kerosene and lighter fluid," said study co-author Dr. Lara McKenzie, at the Center for Injury Research and Policy. "You do have these things in your house and they can be really dangerous when children swallow them. It can look like apple juice or a blue sports drink because of the coloring and can smell appealing -- especially if it's not in the original container."
Children often find these chemicals in the house, drink them and start to choke and gasp for air. They take the chemicals into their lungs, which can cause a potentially fatal pulmonary problem.
Now that spring is turning into summer, risk of hydrocarbon-related injury is on the rise, McKenzie said.
"Store your household products up high where children can't reach or see them, and keep them in their original containers in locked cabinets," she said. "If you are having an outdoor barbecue and using tiki torches, be out there with the kids." And, she added, keep children in the car when you are filling up your gas tank.
Another expert offered additional safety advice.
"Kids get into stuff especially when they are young and around other kids," said Dr. Tamara Kuittinen, a pediatric emergency medicine physician at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. "Keep these products way above ground level and tell grandparents and other family members without children to do the same. If your child does ingest a product with hydrocarbons, call poison control immediately."
If you have a poison emergency or question, call the Poison Help Center at 800-222-1222 from anywhere in the United States. You can also visit the National Capital Poison Center online.