Check home for toxins

Check home for toxins

By Shellie Berg

By Shellie Berg

Staff Reporter

National Poison Prevention Week, March 18-24, reminds individuals to protect their families by preventing poisons from engulfing their household.

Throughout this week, representatives from the Illinois Poison Center are visiting institutions such as schools and hospitals statewide to explain hazards and disperse important materials on the subject. The center is the only certified poison control center in the state.

Although there is one poison prevention week every year, Dr. Tony Burda, chief poison specialist of the IPC, recommends that people check for harmful substances in their homes all the time.

“Poison prevention is a daily activity,” he stated. “Once a year, we like to heighten people’s awareness and activity. I think the most important thing people might want to know is there is a poison center.”

The IPC provides children’s games, lists of toxic plants and stickers with the center’s phone number that people can use to get free advice from physicians in the event of an emergency. “When they have a problem, then is not the time to be fumbling around for the number,” he said.

The IPC states it safely and effectively treated nearly four of five poisonings in 2000. Burda said the IPC estimates it saves $15 million in out-of-pocket expenses.

In the United States, more than one million children under 6 years old are poisoned each year and comprise 60 percent of poison cases.

Common causes are exposure to items used throughout the home. They include household cleansers, cosmetics, medicines and personal care products. Therefore, the IPC urges individuals to check every room in the house.

Burda alluded to a typical call the IPC would receive regarding wallpapering. “Mom and Dad have a paint brush and an open can,” he said. “Mom and Dad are on their knees, and Junior comes up behind and gets it.”

Mike Wahl, M.D. and IPC medical director, points out that people should use child safety locks on cabinets that contain poisonous materials. “It also is important to store poisonous products in their original containers with original labels,” he states in a press release.

He said that households with young children should have syrup of ipecac and activated charcoal. Syrup of ipecac helps to induce vomiting. Activated charcoal binds with poison in the stomach, stopping the absorption and letting the body eliminate the material naturally.

The syrup and charcoal can be purchased from pharmacies with a prescription, but people should call the IPC before acquiring them. “You can do the wrong thing,” Burda said. He said that with certain poisonings, the products are dangerous.

The IPC also recommends:


• Remove cleaning products from anywhere they can be reached by children.

• Medications should be away from the counter.


• Keep medications away from children’s reach and in child-proof containers.

• Get rid of old or unused medications by flushing them in the toilet; rinse out bottles before discarding them.

• Lock up all bathroom cleaning products; keep beauty and health items out of the reach of children.

Living room

• Look for peeling paint, which may contain lead.

• Remove any dangerous plants.


• Keep all fragrances, cosmetics and contraceptives out of reach of children.

• Keep medications off nightstands or within reach of children.

Laundry room

• Keep washing materials and disappear pail deodorizers out of reach of children.

• Rinse out empty fabric softener and bleach bottles before throwing them away.

Garage and yard

• Gasoline, oil, antifreeze, charcoal, lighter fluids, paint and thinners and insect and weed killers should be in safety containers and out of the reach of children.

• Gasoline and paint thinners should be kept in original containers.

The IPC is the sole certified, regional poison center in Illinois and is open year-round, 24 hours a day.

Physicians, nurses, pharmacists and other poison specialists answer calls related to toxic exposures. The IPC is a program of the Metropolitan Chicago Healthcare Council (MCHC). MCHC is a membership and service association comprised of more than 130 hospitals and health care organizations.

To obtain materials, call the IPC at 1-800-942-5969, or visit

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