Many dangerous substances can be found in every Australian home. These range from the obvious such as bleach and other heavy-duty cleaning products, to the less obvious such as windscreen washer fluid and air fresheners. This article will take you through some of the most common chemical exposure situations you or your family members might face, and the appropriate first aid responses.
Bleach/household cleaners: One of the most common and dangerous household chemicals is sodium hypochlorite – better known as liquid bleach. Bleach is highly toxic and can be harmful in several ways:
Mercury: Though no longer as common due to the rise of LEDs, fluorescent-lamps and light bulbs still exist in many homes and contain mercury – a highly toxic compound. Photography equipment, old-fashioned thermometers, and certain paints can also contain mercury. Mercury enters the body through the skin and via inhalation of particles in the air, and prolonged exposure can cause significant damage to bodily systems. Acute exposure to mercury can cause chest discomfort and pain, shortness of breath, and a possible build-up of fluid in the lungs.
Pesticides: Many pesticides contain compounds known as organophosphates – powerful nerve agents that can be incredibly dangerous. Household pesticides are typically less potent than those used in commercial agriculture, however, they still pose a serious health risk. Inhalation, skin contact, and ingestion can produce a variety of symptoms depending on the product and the extent of the exposure, but common symptoms include blurred vision, difficulty breathing, and sweating. In severe cases, tremors, seizures, and even coma can occur.
Glues, paints & aerosols: Many household products including glues, paint and paint-thinners, spray-style deodorants and other aerosol products, and others contain hydrocarbons or fluorocarbons. Hydrocarbons and fluorocarbons are hazardous substances which can cause severe reactions when ingested or inhaled. Most at risk are those who deliberately inhale these substances to become intoxicated, a practice commonly referred to as ‘glue sniffing’. This can cause irregular heartbeat, brain damage, and cardiac arrest. Ingestion of products containing these substances can lead to serious respiratory problems such as pneumonia. Coughing, choking, drowsiness, and seizures are amongst the symptoms that can result from inhalation or ingestion of hydrocarbons, and often symptoms may not present for several hours after exposure.
First Aid for ingested poisons:
First Aid for inhaled poisons:
First Aid for absorbed poisons:
Remember, whilst many common household poisoning scenarios can be successfully treated, prevention is always the best remedy. Ensure hazardous products and chemicals are properly stored and out of reach of children. Labels and warnings should always be observed, and safety measures should always be taken when appropriate.
A huge number of household products can potentially cause harm, and if you suspect a poisoning case, contact a Poisons Information Centre at 13 11 26 who can provide further advice. In the case of an emergency – when someone has collapsed, stopped breathing, or is having a fit – always call 000 immediately.