Issue 11, September 13, 2019

Accidental Pesticide Poisonings- Don’t let Look-alikes Fool You

Pesticides can be beneficial in many ways.  However, they can also pose a human health hazard when not properly handled or stored. An average of 130,136 calls to poison control centers was reported from 2006 to 2010, with an average of 20,116 cases (17.8%) treated in health care facilities annually. A report written on Human Exposures to Pesticides in the U.S. found that an average of 23 deaths occurs each year with pesticides as the underlying cause of death, mostly due to suicidal ingestions. While ingestion is not a common route of pesticide exposure, it can result in the most severe poisoning. Additionally, children are at a higher risk because they often ingest a higher dose of pesticide (amount of pesticide per pound of body weight.) In 2008, pesticides were the ninth most common substance reported to poison control centers, and approximately 45% of all reports of pesticide poisoning were for children.

There are numerous reports of people accidentally drinking pesticides that were improperly stored in unlabeled bottles or beverage containers. We often think of poisonings like this as something that only happens with children, but it is also easy for adults to mistake one product for another.  Pesticides can look the same as food and beverages, have similar packaging, and be accidentally ingested when not properly stored.

The Pesticide Safety Program (PSEP) recently had a table display of many conventional pesticides and their look-a-likes at the University of Illinois’ Agronomy Day. It was an eye-opener for many to see the pesticide and the food product side by side. Many of the products had no visual difference at all between the two. The display brought up many stories from visitors about incidences that had occurred within their family or a friend from an accidental poisoning where pesticides had not been stored in the original container, or the label had fallen off.

This herbicide was indistinguishable from grape juice when removed from its labeled container.

The first story was how two jugs sat side by side in the garage, neither with a label.  A family member was asked to get oil for the fryer.  Unintentionally reached for the herbicide and ended up frying all the fish for supper that evening in an herbicide.

The second story was how the pesticide was in a food container in the garage.  The family was out in the garage working on a car, and the child wanted a drink.   The child grabbed the bottle and drank.  When the family realized what had occurred, ask the child why he didn’t spit it out as it didn’t taste good, he answered, “he didn’t want to be rude.” These stories were not fatal ones, but all left a lasting impression on the need to keep pesticides in original containers and with label secured.

PSEP created a fact sheet of 10 things that people can do in order to prevent these types of incidents from occurring. Sharing this information with family members, coworkers, and friends can help to stop events like this from happening.

What can you do?

Here are some simple prevention tips:
1. Store pesticides in their original containers, with the label identifying the product. Never store pesticides in food/beverage containers.
2. Store pesticides in a location separate from food & feed.
3. Secure pesticides in a locked location.
4. Keep pesticides out of the reach and sight of children. Children’s bodies are small, so even small amounts of poisonous chemicals can cause significant problems.
5. Have adequate light in storage areas so that the labels can be seen or read easily.
6. Read labels to find out if and how pesticides could be harmful.
7. Dispose of unwanted pesticides and pesticide containers properly.
8. Teach children about pesticides and pesticide look-alikes.
9. Apply “Mr. Yuk” stickers to poisonous products.
10.  Poison Control Centers are not just for emergencies. They are open 24 hrs a day, 7 days a week as a resource for help and information 1-800-222-1222.

Maria Turner

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