WA Poison Center: People mixing chemicals to create cleaning product, making toxic gas

SPOKANE, Wash. — Washington’s Poison Center is warning people about the dangers of mixing chemicals — specifically household cleaners. They’ve also seen an increase in calls about poison exposures.

Since January 1, 13,254 people have been exposed to a wide variety of substances such as hand sanitizer, bleach, detergents, antiseptics and more. Specifically, 1,226 have been exposed to household cleaning products.

“They mix bleach with ammonia and that can generate a toxic gas called chloramine gas,” said Dr. Erica Liebelt, Medical Director for Washington Poison Center. “Toilet bowl cleaner with bleach and that can generate chlorine gas.”

However, Liebelt said those numbers may not be 100% accurate as it doesn’t represent all exposures. Those are the ones reported to them by phone calls and sometimes first responders.

“Fortunately a few have only resulted in minor symptoms,” she said. “Just a few have resulted in it being necessary to refer them to a health care facility.”

Exposures can come in different forms such as a breathing in toxic fumes, ingestion and a skin reaction. Fortunately, not all exposures result in poisoning.  The number of hand sanitizer exposures increase by 83% compared to 2019.

To avoid becoming a part of these numbers, Liebelt said to keep a few things in mind.

“It’s also important to read the labels carefully of these products,” she said. “And to only use substances for their intended use.”

Liebelt added that all household cleaners should be in their original bottles.

“We had a call the other day that a specific cleaner had been transferred into a common household beverage container,” she explained. “So I may not know that, and I may get thirsty and think, ‘Oh, I want a sip of this.”

If you’re going to be cleaning, Liebelt said to keep windows open to create ventilation. Additionally, keep all household cleaners high up and out of reach of children.

Some exposure symptoms include difficulty breathing, a skin reaction, passing out, and vomiting if you ingest bleach. Liebelt said to instantly flush out your eyes or skin with water.

For any questions or advice, call the Washington Poison Center helpline at 1-800-222-1222.

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