Poison Control – What You Need to Know

Often when we think about poisons and exposure to poisons, we think about non-food substances that our children have ingested like lead, household cleaning products, medicines, and bug spray.  Poison prevention is about limiting our exposure to all chemicals, pesticides, and other environmental products that might be ingested or swallowed (like lead in the drinking water), absorbed through the skin, inhaled (air pollution), or even from exposure prenatally or while being breastfed. 

Over the last 50 years the use of artificial chemicals in products has increased exponentially. Most of these chemicals were not tested for safety before widespread use.  Of the most widely used chemicals, less than half have been tested for safety and toxicity and even fewer have been examined for prenatal or developmental toxicity (Landrigan et al, 2019). One recent example has been the widespread use of hand sanitizers. As their use has expanded, large quantities of hazardous chemical pollutants have leached into the environment, contaminating food chains, and accumulating in our bodies where they do serious damage.  The impact of these exposures to children’s health have been demonstrated by the rising rates of diseases such as asthma, cancers, autism, ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder), lower IQ and high rates of anxiety and depression.  There is also an increase in behavior and learning disorders and shortened attention spans.  

So what can you do to protect yourself and your family?  Here is a list of tips to reduce chemical and environmental exposures:

  1.  Decrease intake of processed foods. If you eat fast food, choose restaurants that use PFAS-free(Polyfluoroalkyl) packaging. PFAS are a group of chemicals found in cookware, pizza boxes, nonstick products, stain repellents and in contaminated water.
  2. Avoid microwave popcorn as the bags usually contain PFAS.
  3. Use cast iron instead of Teflon nonstick pans.
  4. Use entry mats coming in the house and carefully wipe off shoes. Consider leaving all shoes inside the door so dirt from the outside is not tracked into the house.
  5. Wash infants and children’s hands frequently when playing outside.
  6. Use water filters in areas where water is contaminated especially if you have an infant being fed formula mixed with water. Check out your local water safety report to find out what chemicals can be found in your local water.
  7. Avoid pesticide use in the home.  BeyondPesticides (https://www.beyondpesticides.org/) has pest specific resources.
  8. Reduce consumption of conventionally grown products and choose organic when possible.
  9. Use low VOC (volatile organic compound) paints, and pregnant women should not paint.
  10. Do not use solvents around infants and children and use a respirator or masks for your protection.
  11. Ensure all upholstered furniture is covered with textile with no holes with foam showing.
  12. Buy infant products without flame retardants.  
  13. Avoid soft vinyl products like beach balls and plastic shower curtains.  If they smell when you open the packaging, they probably contain phthalates.
  14. Check out the Environmental Working Group (EWG). It’s your best resource (https://www.ewg.org/consumer-guides) and contains consumer guides on water quality, pesticides in foods (eg. Dirty Dozen), and safe cleaning products. 
  15. Avoid personal care products with “fragrance” as an ingredient as this may contain Phthalates.  Assess personal care products on the Skin Deep Website from EWG (https://www.ewg.org/skindeep/) 
  16. Finally, keep the poison control number 1-800-222-1222 in your cell phone and flag the website (https://aapcc.org/) on your computer.  Poisoning is not just for infants anymore!

Landrigan, P. J, et al(2019), Pollution and Children’s Health. Science of the Total Environment, 650, 2389-2394.

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