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Household Chemicals - Identifying the Hazards PDF Print E-mail
There is now no doubt that household chemicals can be hazardous to the health of adults and children. Accidental poisoning by common household chemical products is now the second most common form of childhood poisoning.

According to NRMA Insurance, accidental poisoning of children:
  • by medicines, accounts for 71 per cent
  • by household chemicals, accounts for 28 per cent of child poisonings.

Toddlers to two years of age are most at risk, says the NRMA (

With both medicines and the chemical products in the house, care in storage and use is especially important. Better still is removing the threat of accidental poisoning by substituting safer solutions to hazardous chemicals.

Research confirms dangers in the home

Evidence of the toxicity and danger posed by household cleaning products as well as by medicines has been accumulating for some time.

The journal Injury Prevention Online, for instance, carries a paper by Dr Lawrence T Lam which states:

"Certain poison types of medicinal and non-medicinal substances have been identified as common agents in poisoning in children and adolescents. [Medical products implicated in childhood poisoning include...] analgesics, anti-inflammatory agents, psychotropic drugs such as antidepressants and benzodiazepines related agents.

"Non-medicinal substances include chemicals such as organophosphates, pesticides, insecticides, organic solvents, and household cleaning products such as bleach and caustics ...were also found to be common causes of poisoning among children."

(ref: Childhood and adolescence poisoning in NSW, Australia: an analysis of age, sex, geographic, and poison types; Dr LT Lam, Royal Alexandra Hospital for Children;

The need for consumer knowledge about household chemicals and the toxicity threat they offer was made clear in A National Plan for Domestic Chemicals by the National Health and Medical Research Council.

Citing a lack of knowledge about accidental poisoning in the household and insufficient labeling of products containing potentially hazardous chemicals, the report states:

"A number of key elements in the problem of accidental poisoning were identified. They include:
  • a general lack of community understanding of chemical hazards
  • labeling and packaging which does not sufficiently inform the public of potential hazards
  • lack of understanding of existing warning statements on labels
  • unsafe storage practices
  • a lack of awareness of the role of Poisons Information Centres in providing poisoning advice".

(Australian Government Department of Employment & Workplace Relations:

Many products, many hazards

A surprisingly long list of common household products are a threat to family health, especially that of young children. They include:

Household cleaning products:

  • floor cleaning preparations and polishes
  • washing liquids, including those made for use in dishwashing machines
  • ammonia
  • disinfectants
  • window cleaners
  • oven cleaners
  • air freshners.

Other common household products:

  • matches
  • paint
  • glues
  • some crayons
  • kitty litter
  • CD and DVD head cleaners
  • mothballs
  • pot pourri
  • petroleum products such as kerosene and methylated spirits
  • essential oils such as eucalyptus oil and tea tree oil
  • alcohol
  • baby-bottle cleaner
  • insect sprays and surface sprays
  • rodenticides - rat and mouse baits.

Household garden products:

  • garden insecticides
  • fertilisers, fungicides, herbicides
  • commercially available, bagged potting mix.
Because of their colour or attractive packaging, many of these products are attractive to young children, especially those under eight years of age. They are more likely to pick something up and put it in their mouth or to bite or swallow it.

More on these common hazards: The Raising Children Network ).

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