Keep kids, pets safe from everyday household toxins

March 8, 2021 by PEMCO Insurance

It's the sad, surprising statistic that almost everyone guesses wrong: What's the No. 1 cause of preventable, injury-related fatalities in the U.S.?

If you said "car crashes" or "falls," you'd have knocked off No. 2 and 3. But the top reason is accidental poisoning, either as a medication or drug (primarily opioids) overdose, ingestion of household chemicals or poisonous plants or inhalation of carbon monoxide.  

Each year, accidental poisonings injure more than one million children under age 6, with 20% involving either cleaning products or toxic plants. Many problems start right under the kitchen sink or in the family medicine cabinet.

Here are steps you can take to reduce your potential liability as a homeowner or renter, but even more importantly, to safeguard the people and pets you hold dear.


What NOT to keep under the sink

Move all cleaning products, including environmentally friendly natural ones, to higher shelves. Colorful dishwasher pods and spray cleaners usually smell good and are especially attractive to toddlers. Never repackage cleaners into food containers like milk jugs or coffee cans. Keep them in their original containers.

Because cabinets under the sink are opened frequently (especially if you keep your kitchen garbage can there), child safety latches can become weakened over time. If you use the loop-and-lock type that goes through the handles, it's easy to forget to replace it or be tempted to leave it off momentarily, knowing you'll be reopening it soon. You're better off just making "under the sink" a true safety zone.

Use the space to store harmless things like hand towels and dish cloths, paper towels, pet dishes and plastic containers. Don't store anything electronic though, like your Instant Pot or mixer, because moisture from a pipe leak could damage them.

How to manage medication

Keep prescriptions and over-the-counter medications like vitamins, fever reducers, allergy and cold remedies and cough syrup in a locked cabinet. Medicines formulated for kids present special dangers because they're usually flavored to taste good. Also, kids don't think of them as a danger. Just the opposite! They're something that helps them feel better when they're sick.

Get rid of outdated or unused prescriptions, particularly pain medication that might be left over after a family member has undergone a procedure. Your pharmacy may have a take-back program where you can drop off unwanted medications for safe, environmentally conscious disposal.

Make sure all generations of the family mind their meds. Teens, for example, may be responsible for managing their own ADHD medications, which have serious overdose potential if left where they can be found by a younger sibling or curious pet. Grandparents often use prescription medication that may be left on the counter or, if arthritis is an issue, in an easy-to-open bottle.

Keeping pets safe

Like toddlers, pets often investigate the world by taste. In addition to the dangers above, dogs can be sickened chocolate, Xylitol (an artificial sweetener in sugar-free gum and candy), grapes, raisins, onions and garlic. With cats, also watch out for some species of lilies, flea/tick medications formulated for dogs and essential oils.

When solving a rodent problem, avoid using bait. Not only can pets eat the poison bait, but cats, in particular, may eat a rodent that has consumed bait and become sick themselves.

What to do if you suspect a problem

Don't take chances! If you think your child may have eaten something dangerous and appears unwell, call 9-1-1 for immediate emergency help. Even if they seem OK, call the National Poison Control Center at 1-800-222-1222 for advice on next steps. When you call, have the bottle (cleaner, medicine, etc.) handy so you can share information about its contents with the operator. Years ago, the old-standby advice was to induce vomiting, but medical professionals now say that may do more harm than good depending on what was eaten.

If your pet may have ingested something poisonous, contact your veterinarian or the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center at 1-888-426-4435.

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