- The Washington Times - Friday, October 26, 2001

The anthrax scare has changed the way many of us live. Some folks aren't even opening junk mail at home even though for the vast majority of people, the chances of receiving anthrax spores in the mail is almost nil.

However, many more people live with poisons in their houses every day and haven't done a thing to reduce the chances of poisoning themselves, their children or their neighbors.

Some of the poisons are obvious paint, various cleaning products, auto chemicals, even plants. Others are not so obvious mouthwash, toothpaste (that's right read the small print), hair-treatment products, just to name a few.

The nation's poison centers received more than 8,800 calls per day in 2000 that's 3.2 million calls for the year, according to the American Association of Poison Control Centers.

Not to diminish the seriousness of bioterrorism, but the fact is, more Americans will get sick or die from poisons in their own homes, poisons they bought at the market and voluntarily brought home, than from anthrax.

Most household poisonings are accidental, but they could be avoided if a few guidelines are followed. For one, keep potential poisons in their original containers. There's a reason manufacturers produce certain products with certain types of containers. Switching a product to another container is dangerous, and here's why: Directions for treatment, where to call for help and possibly even more important what not to do if someone is poisoned, usually are printed on the container. Switch it to a handy glass bottle "because it's easier to use" and you have just lost your first line of defense.

There's a reason harmful products have this legally mandated phrase on them: "Use only as directed." Believe it or not, there are a lot of knuckleheads out there who can invent new and disastrous uses for products. An ambulance was called to one of the pools in my neighborhood this summer complete with TV news teams trailing. A chemist-wannabe teen-ager had decided to mix his Cherry Coke with pool chemicals, which resulted in an exciting explosion that took him to the hospital for eye care.

When it comes to household chores, chemicals can make the job quicker and easier. So let's not work ourselves into a tizzy over a chemical or biological threat aimed at terrorizing Americans into economic paralysis and at the same time ignore safety rules while using a dangerous household product.

If the product says "open windows and allow for good ventilation," it probably means you should open some windows and allow for good ventilation.

Here are some prevention tips, in bold, for adults from AAPCC. My comments follow.

Store food and household chemical products in separate areas. Don't think a child looking at dishwasher detergent that has a lemon on the front of the package and that smells lemony might not think it's good to eat.

Never mix household and chemical products together. A poisonous gas may be created when mixing chemicals. Just because chlorine bleach would make a good, safe cleaner for one mess doesn't mean if you add gasoline, it would make an even stronger safe cleaner.

Wear protective clothing when spraying pesticides and other chemicals. This doesn't mean a moon suit, but long-sleeve shirts, long pants, socks, shoes, gloves and goggles.

Never sniff containers to discover what is inside.

Consider expiration dates on yard products. Discard appropriately. Check with your local waste-management company for drop-off sites for chemicals.

First-aid instructions on product containers may be incomplete. Call your local Poison Control Center or doctor if an exposure occurs. AAPCC has a list of regional and local poison centers on its Web site www.aapcc.org.

M. Anthony Carr has written about real estate for more than 12 years. Send comments and questions by e-mail ([email protected]).

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