Image courtesy the Washington Poison Center.

Image courtesy the Washington Poison Center.

Poison Center records increase in poison exposures during COVID-19

Poison exposures from the misuse of chemicals spiked 53 percent in the early days of the pandemic.

A new report from the Washington Poison Center shows that there has been an increase of calls regarding potentially dangerous exposures to hand sanitizer, bleach, rubbing alcohol, and other household cleaners at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to the report, published May 19, there was a 52 percent increase in the number of calls made to the poison center regarding children ages 0 to 12 being exposed to hand sanitizer between Jan. 1 and April 27.

Additionally, it appears there was a 53 percent increase in the number of incidents where cleaning agents were being “misused.”

But before any conclusions are jumped to, it should be noted that “exposures” to chemicals and chemicals being “misused” doesn’t always mean that someone was poisoned.

An exposure is “any suspected or actual contact with a substance which has been ingested, inhaled, absorbed, or injected into the body regardless of toxicity or clinical manifestation,” said Dr. Erica Liebelt, medical director of the Poison Center.

Liebelt gave the example of a mother sanitizing her child’s hands before eating, and the child rubs their eyes.

Even if the child was showing no symptoms, “If mom called us… to make sure she wouldn’t have to worry about anything… we code that as an exposure call,” Liebelt said. “We also look at outcomes, and we would code ‘no effect’” for this particular example.

“A poisoning… is when an exposure results in an adverse reaction,” she continued, expanding on her example of the mother and child — if the child starts to cry or say they’re in pain, that would be coded as a minor poisoning.

“Misuse” of chemicals is also a term that trips some people up, Liebelt said — it means using the chemicals in an incorrect manner (like mixing chemicals or not diluting), rather than abusing chemicals in order to get high (that’s classified as an “intentional” exposure).

“I’ll give you a great example — [mixing] bleach with the ammonia in the toilet. So common,” she continued. “All of a sudden, they start having difficulty breathing because there’s a gas emitted called chloramine gas.”

Some of the calls that went to the Poison Center involved exposures that were common before COVID-19, like the bleach/ammonia situation, Liebelt said. But others are specifically related to the coronavirus.

“People are taking spray disinfectants and spraying their homemade cloth masks with it. Then they put the cloth mask on their face and they start inhaling the fumes. Or, they’re soaking their masks in bleach to clean them,” Liebelt said. “Public Health recommends washing your masks with soap and water.”

Liebelt stressed that the Poison Center did not receive any calls that may have been related to President Donald Trump’s April 24 statement of using disinfectants “by injection” to kill the coronavirus.

The Poison Center report also detailed how many calls it was taking during the pandemic’s earliest moments.

It appears the Poison Center started to receive marginally more calls after Jan. 22, which was when the state supposedly discovered the first case of COVID-19 in Washington.

However, calls spiked from between 25 and 75 calls a day to more than 300 days before the first death was reported on Feb. 28, and continued to be high for several more days after Gov. Jay Inslee declared a state of emergency on March 1.

Another spike in calls, which tripled from 50 per day to about 150, happened when Inslee’s first announced his ban on gatherings of more than 250 people on March 10.

It appears call volumes returned to normal from March 15 until April 27, the end date of the report.


In consideration of how we voice our opinions in the modern world, we’ve closed comments on our websites. We value the opinions of our readers and we encourage you to keep the conversation going.

Please feel free to share your story tips by emailing editor@redmond-reporter.com.

To share your opinion for publication, submit a letter through our website https://www.redmond-reporter.com/submit-letter/. Include your name, address and daytime phone number. (We’ll only publish your name and hometown.) We reserve the right to edit letters, but if you keep yours to 300 words or less, we won’t ask you to shorten it.

More in News

West Point Treatment Plant in Seattle. Photo courtesy of King County
Power outages cause massive wastewater spill into Puget Sound, Lake Washington

King County estimates millions gallons of untreated wastewater overflowed into surrounding waters.

Democrats in the Washington State House are proposing to pay for transportation improvements partly by raising the gas tax by 18 cents. (Sound Publishing file photo)
House Democrats lay out massive $26B transportation package funded by gas tax hike

An 18-cent gas tax increase and a fee on carbon emissions would fund new roads and more.

File photo
Report: 70 percent of gun deaths in Washington are attributable to suicide

Research done at The Firearm Injury and Policy Research Program at Harborview… Continue reading

June 2018 algae bloom. Photo courtesy of Department of Ecology
Human-caused ‘dead zones’ threaten health of Puget Sound

Wastewater treatment plants account for about 70% of the excess nutrients.

Robert Allen, 61, had never been homeless in his life before 2019, when he lost his housing. The chef has been trying to get back on his feet, and hopes to open a nonprofit and make hot sauce. File photo
King County implements 0.01% sales tax to raise money for housing the homeless

Officials plan to buy hotels, motels and nursing homes for conversion into permanent housing.

Teaser
Social media site Parler returns after registering with Sammamish company

The right-wing social media website is not being hosted by Epik, but registered its domain.

Photo by Elvert Barnes/Flickr
Seattle renters seek cheaper rent in surrounding cities

One factor includes the ability to work remotely, according to housing economist.

Local restaurants have had to adapt to new rules during the COVID pandemic. Pictured: JP’s Tavern in Federal Way’s turkey club sandwich with a side of tater tots. File photo
State lawmakers propose bill to fast-track the governor’s reopening plan

Bill’s sponsors want to give legislature control over COVID-19 restrictions.

Fentanyl. (Courtesy photo)
King County reports record numbers of drug overdose deaths

Preliminary toxicology testing shows most overdose victims used multiple types of drugs.

Most Read