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B.C. sees a spike in calls to poison control about exposure to household cleaners

BCCDC experts remind the public to use cleaners safely when taking steps to prevent COVID-19
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Cleaning your home with household cleaners and disinfectants can help prevent the spread of COVID-19 and other infectious diseases, but before you get out the cleaning bucket, BCCDC experts are reminding you to take proper safety precautions so you don’t put yourself or your family at risk. 

Since mid-March, when British Columbians were encouraged to stay home and measures were put in place to prevent the community spread of COVID-19, the Drug & Poison Information Centre (DPIC) at BC Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC) has seen a 60 per cent spike in calls related to exposures to household cleaners and disinfectants. (See slide #1 or figure below)

“Fortunately, we haven’t seen any serious injuries, but ingesting or improperly mixing cleaning chemicals can be fatal,” says Dr. Tom Kosatsky, the medical director of Environmental Health Services at BCCDC. “We’re glad to see the people of B.C. taking measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19, but please keep in mind that cleaners and disinfectants are powerful substances and need to be used safely.”

Quick Facts

  • Callers have been exposed through using cleaners in excessive amounts, using chemicals that should be diluted at full bottle strength, and mixing chemicals that should not be mixed.
  • In a typical week, DPIC receives 9 calls related to adults’ exposure to bleach. From March 8 to April 11, the average was 24 calls per week. [See slide #4]
  • Calls about bleach are particularly concerning because mixing bleach with vinegar, ammonia or rubbing alcohol can create toxic gases. 
  • In recent weeks, women have been more likely to call about exposures to cleaning products and disinfectants than men. [See slide #2]
  • While the increase in calls has been related to exposures in adults, it is always important to keep cleaning products in a safe place where children cannot access them. 

Tips for cleaning safely

When used properly, household cleaners can inactivate viruses, including the virus that causes COVID-19. To protect yourself and your family while cleaning:

  • Follow all label directions.
  • Never mix chemicals.
  • Never use bleach or other disinfectants on food. Rinse fresh vegetables and fruits with clean potable water.
  • If cleaning a food surface with bleach, dilute the bleach with water or rinse the surface with water after cleaning. 
  • Always safely store or dispose of cleaners when you’re done using them.

What to do if you’re accidentally exposed

If you or someone you know has been exposed to a disinfectant or sanitizer, do the following first aid measures and call your local Poison Control Centre: 1-800-567-8911.

  • Inhalation: ventilate the area and seek fresh air
  • Eye exposure: flush eyes with water for 5-10 minutes
  • Skin exposure: flush skin with water for 5 minutes
  • Ingestion: drink ½ cup to 1 cup of water.

Media contact: 

PHSA media line at 778-867-7472




SOURCE: B.C. sees a spike in calls to poison control about exposure to household cleaners ( )
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