Friday, August 10, 2012

Is Your Home Safe for Children?

You want to provide a clean home for your children.  You use cleaning products that promise all kinds of benefits like killing 99.9% of all germs while making your home smell like a tropical jungle.  All surfaces will sparkle, your kids' clothes will be ultra-clean, spot-free, and fragrant.  It sounds great, but is it really? 

Most common household cleaners are harsh.  They can cause all kinds of problems: laundry detergents can cause skin irritation; cleaning product fumes can cause indoor air pollution which can cause airway problems and irritate eyes; the chemicals that make the lovely fragrances have possible links to disrupted hormone levels; and some cleaning products can kill you or your child if used improperly.

Chemical companies are not required to include all ingredients on their cleaning product or air "freshening" labels, and most products have not been thoroughly tested for human health impacts.  However, there are words to look for:  "Caution," "Warning," "Danger," "Poison," and "Keep away from children and pets."

In addition to the indirect dangers of cleaners, many children have been poisoned by sampling these products.  In 2010, U.S. poison centers answered nearly 2.4 million calls about human exposures to poisons.  In children, about 40% of poisonings involve medicines; the other 60% involve products such as plants, cleaning supplies, cosmetics, pesticides, paints, and solvents.  Poisoning is the fourth leading cause of death among children with peak incidences in children between the ages of one and three.  About half of all poison exposures occur to children under the age of six.

According to the Center for Disease Control, every day, over 300 children in the United States ages 0 to 19 are treated in an emergency department, and two children die, as a result of being poisoned. It’s not just chemicals in your home marked with clear warning labels that can be dangerous to children.   It includes the everyday toxic products we purchase and don't think of as hazardous such as cleaning supplies

What Can You Do?

Make sure your cleaning products and other poisons are not accessible to your child.  REMEMBER, many poisonings occur when a product is in use and the parent is occupied with cleaning or when the parent is cooking a meal.

Switch your cleaning products to low or nontoxic cleaners.  There are many cleaners on the market that are much safer--however, beware of "greenwashing" of products.  Some companies use words like "natural" and "nontoxic," but do not prove it on their labels.  Make sure the product states that all ingredients are listed, and you understand what those ingredients are.

These products are pricier, but they may be worth it to a busy parent.  You may want to consider making your own, simple cleaning products with white vinegar, baking soda, and liquid soap (see the Recipes page on this blog).  They take just minutes to make.

When You Have Hazardous Products In Your Home

The Center for Disease Control suggests:

Lock them up. Keep medicines and toxic products, such cleaning solutions, in their original packaging where children can’t see or get them.
Know the number. Put the nationwide poison control center phone number, 1-800-222-1222, on or near every telephone in your home and program it into your cell phone. Call the poison control center if you think a child has been poisoned but they are awake and alert; they can be reached 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Call 911 if you have a poison emergency and your child has collapsed or is not breathing.
Read the label. Follow label directions and read all warnings when giving medicines to children.
Don’t keep it if you don’t need it. Safely dispose of unused, unneeded, or expired prescription drugs and over the counter drugs, vitamins, and supplements. To dispose of medicines, mix them with coffee grounds or kitty litter and throw them away. You can also turn them in at a local take-back program or during National Drug Take-Back events.

Note, these national programs will probably disappear when the federal government finds a better solution--which I hope will be soon.  Never pour medicines down the drain or flush them down the toilet.  They end up in our drinking water as treatment facilities and septic systems do not remove them.

There may also be a household hazardous waste collection in your area for the toxic products you have in your home if you're not going to use them.  Call your town or the solid waste management district to find out.

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