Safety PSA: Poison Control Centers Report Recent Spike in Cleaning/Disinfectant Chemical Exposures

Multiple sources have reported a recent and significant increase in calls to poison control centers concerning harmful exposures to cleaning and disinfecting products. It is especially important during these challenging times that we not worsen the situation through unsafe use of cleaning chemicals, including application of cleaning products to the human body, or intentional or accidental ingestion or injection.

A Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) posted online this week by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) showed that between January and March, cases of exposure to cleaners have increased 20.4% and exposure to disinfectants have increased 16.4% compared with the same period last year. The CDC notes that the spike in exposures began in early March, and while they could not provide a conclusive link between exposures and COVID-19 cleaning efforts, the timing of the increase corresponds closely to increased media coverage surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as increased consumer demand for disinfecting and cleaning products.

Concerns have further increased following a recent Presidential Task Force press briefing which mentioned the possibility of using disinfectants as treatments for individuals with COVID-19. Confusion about the intended meaning of these statements and subsequent discussions on social media have coincided with a new short-term uptick in poison control center calls related to cleaning and disinfecting chemical exposures.

These concerns have caused some disinfectant manufacturers to speak out directly. For example, the manufacturer of Lysol and Dettol, Reckitt Benckiser, issued the following statement:

“As a global leader in health and hygiene products, we must be clear that under no circumstance should our disinfectant products be administered into the human body (through injection, ingestion or any other route).  As with all products, our disinfectant and hygiene products should only be used as intended and in line with usage guidelines. Please read the label and safety information.”

These are anxious and uncertain times, and many people are no doubt hoping for a “magic bullet.” That’s why it’s more important than ever to make sure we’re getting our chemical information from credible, knowledgeable sources.

For instance, EPA recently issued a news release providing the public with critical information about safe disinfectant use, including use of List N disinfectants that the agency recognizes as suitable for use against the SARS CoV-2 virus and COVID-19. The news release expressly warns against applying disinfecting products to the human body or ingesting them. The American Cleaning Institute (ACI) issued a similar warning statement, and a prominent medical toxicologist warned that he has seen cases of fatalities resulting from ingestion of strong disinfectants.

“It’s critically important to use disinfecting products as they’re intended and according to the directions on the label,” said the Household and Commercial Products Association (HCPA) in a recent statement. Disinfectants should never be injected, ingested or even applied to the skin. These products are for surface use only to kill traces of the virus that might be living in homes, hospitals or workplaces. There is absolutely no disinfectant, cleaner, bleach or other home cleaning chemical that should be injected or ingested to protect against COVID-19. Ingestion of disinfectants, bleach or any household cleaning product, for that matter, could result in a trip to the emergency room, or worse.”

It’s important to remember that exposures to these cleaning products can occur in the workplace, as well as in the home. Anyone who may potentially handle these chemicals or be exposed to them should receive training and information regarding the chemical hazards.

There are numerous precautions that should be followed to ensure safe use of disinfectants – some more obvious than others. Please see our previous blog post for COVID-19 cleanup considerations, including how use of these disinfectants may trigger coverage by OSHA’s HazCom Standard. Another previous post offers specific guidance on avoiding dangerous mixtures of incompatible chemicals when cleaning and disinfecting.

Let VelocityEHS Help!

To help consumers ensure the safe use of chemical cleaning products during the COVID-19 outbreak, VelocityEHS is offering free access to our MSDSonline database containing up-to-date SDSs for the products on EPA’s approved list of disinfectants against SARS-CoV-2.

Click Here For More Household Cleaning Safety Tips & Guidance

Also, be sure to check out our VelocityEHS COVID-19 Resource Site  featuring a growing library of helpful articles and free tools to help protect against COVID-19 and manage safety in both the home and workplace during this challenging time.

From all of us here at VelocityEHS, we wish you peace and safety during these difficult times. If you have any questions, please Contact Us at any time. We’re always here to help.

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