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by Phil Molé, MPH

It’s summertime again, which means that it’s time to fire up the grill and get ready for plenty of fun and sun outside, while of course remembering that we’re not yet fully out of the grips of the COVID-19 pandemic. But summer also brings the potential for exposure to chemicals associated with those recreational activities, and the risks those chemicals pose to ourselves, our children and our pets.

Since we’re almost to the holiday weekend of the Fourth of July in the US, it’s a good time to talk about some of the dangers mixed in with our summer fun, including potential exposures related to fireworks. In this second installment of our series “ERS Frontline Stories,” we’ll talk about some of the most common types of emergency calls our ERS representatives get during summer and the types of chemical exposure that can happen, and let you know how better access to emergency response information can help no matter where you are in the chemical supply chain.

Everyone in the Pool! (But Watch Out for Chemicals First)

Either we or people we know may have swimming pools, which means relief from those hot summer days, but also may mean exposure to pool maintenance chemical products, many of which contain chlorine compounds as ingredients. These ingredients are toxic if ingested, can cause skin irritation if contact occurs, and can even potentially cause severe eye damage because they react with moisture in the eyes.

For example, here are some of the exposure situations our ERS team has responded to:

  • A user had red, irritated eyes after handling pool tablets containing chlorinated compounds and inadvertently touching her eyes. Our ERS representative provided first aid information based on information in the product SDS, as well as a number for a local poison control center.
  • A user’s dog ingested an unknown amount of a commercial pool algaecide, and had reportedly vomited once as a result. Our representative provided exposure and first aid information from the product SDS, while emphasizing that this information pertained to human, rather than animal exposures. The dog appeared to be doing better after vomiting, but our representative provided the user with a Pet Poison Helpline in the event it would be needed.

Protect Your Lawn, But Protect Yourself, Too

Those of us who have lawns know that caring for them takes effort—not just to keep them green and well-watered during those hot summer months, but also to stimulate growth and protect them from weeds through the use of chemical products. Because we tend to need a steady supply of these chemicals and apply them over the large surface area of our front and back lawns, there is a potential for human or pet exposure.

Some of the situations users have called our ERS team about include:

  • A user’s dog accidentally ingested some of a commercially sold weed killer product, and had a seizure afterward. The dog had no previously known seizures before ingesting the product. Our representative told the user that the dog most likely would not have ingested the product at its full concentration because the product had been spilled on the ground first, and provided information about the symptoms of exposure and a Pet Poison Helpline number to call.
  • A user accidentally got some of a commercially sold liquid insecticide spray on her finger, and reported having a burgundy colored mark on her finger, and a burning sensation. Our ERS team provided the caller with first aid instructions and health hazard data from the product SDS, and also provided the number of a local poison control center.
  • A user reported that the container of a commercially sold weed killer had leaked, spilling some of the liquid onto the carpeting in the back of her SUV. The caller was concerned about proper cleanup procedures, and how to avoid inhalation exposure. Our ERS representative provided health hazard data, symptoms of exposure, and cleanup procedures from the product SDS, and emailed a copy of the SDS to the caller for reference.

Pest Control Can Endanger Pets

The return of warm weather reminds us of everything we love about being outside, and everything we’re not so fond of – namely, pests like ants and fleas. That means we’re probably running out to buy many commercially sold pest control products to make our backyard time and nature walks more enjoyable, but we shouldn’t forget that these chemical products carry risks for us, too.

Here is a sampling of incidents our ERS team have received calls about:

  • A caller reported that after she’d used a concentrated flea spray in her yard, her pets had become sick. It should be noted that some flea spray products contain ingredients with inhalation hazards, and can cause lung damage through aspiration. Our representative provided the first aid procedures and symptoms of exposure, noting that human and animal exposures may differ, and provided the number to a Pet Poison Hotline.
  • A caller stated that his dog had chewed through a bag containing disposable wasp and yellowjacket traps, resulting in potential exposure. Our ERS representative provided a number for a Pet Poison Helpline as a precaution.
  • The caller stated that his cat got stuck on a “fly ribbon” glue trap for catching flying insects, and had tried licking off the remaining glue. The cat did not seem to be having any exposure symptoms, but our ERS representative provided information about exposure symptoms and a number for a local pet poison hotline as a precaution.

Safety During Outdoor Cookouts

Many of us will be gathering with friends and families outside for outdoor parties and barbeques, and food looms large in those plans. We often need specific kinds of commercial chemical products for preparing the food (e.g., lighter fluid for grills) or for keeping the food warm (e.g., “canned heat” products). These products contain flammable compounds such as butane and petroleum distillates.

Some of the situations our ERS team have received regarding calls about include:

  • A user’s baby accidentally ingested some of the liquid fuel in a canned heating product. While the baby had not yet shown any symptoms, our ERS team provided first aid instructions based on the SDS, described exposure symptoms to watch out for, and provided the number for a local poison control center as a precaution.
  • A user reported that her 18-month old child had ingested an unknown volume of a chaffing fuel used to keep hot foods warm. Because of the unknown quantity, our representative advised them to call a local poison control center immediately using a number we provided, and the poison control center instructed her to flush out the child’s mouth with water and monitor for symptoms of exposure. After the user spoke with the poison control center, our representative spoke to her again and explained that if she needed to take the child in for treatment, she should provide the doctor with the product name, manufacturer name, and our phone number to obtain the SDS, since it would aid in treatment. 

The Finale: Cue the Fireworks

Of course, we’re just about at the Fourth of July weekend here in the United States, and to quote a line from “The Simpsons,” Americans like to celebrate their country’s independence by blowing up a small piece of it. Anyone celebrating the holiday with pyrotechnics needs to remember to keep their safety awareness up, because every year fireworks result in accidents such as skin burns or even property fires.

What we don’t often remember is how all of these fireworks get into the hands of those planning their use – someone has to transport them, and often has to transport them in bulk, compounding the potential risks.

Our ERS team have received calls from transporters related to fireworks exposure incidents, including:

  • A caller reported that an 8-pound box containing fireworks was found punctured on the dock of a distribution center. Our ERS representative provided cleanup instructions and precaution measures from the SDS.
  • A caller reported that two boxes of fireworks fell off of a skid and ruptured during transit. Our ERS representatives provided information on cleanup measures, safety precautions, and proper disposal from the SDS.

The Emergency Response Information You Need, When You Need It

We can see from these examples that there are a wide range of possible chemical exposures that can happen during summer months. Not all of these exposures are equally serious, but all of them can, at a minimum, produce anxiety for the users of the products, and some can result in very serious health effects.

“These exposures aren’t all life-threatening, but they still cause a lot of worry,” says Juli Harvey, Manager of ERS Operations at VelocityEHS. “People worry about accidental exposures, especially when it comes to their kids and their pets. We listen to each caller and determine what they most need from us, whether it’s the symptoms of exposure, cleanup procedures, or the numbers for local poison control centers in case they need them.”

There are a couple of big takeaways from these examples. One of them is that chemicals are everywhere, so we need to be aware at all times of the products we’re using, no matter where we’re using them. A second takeaway is that emergency response depends on responsibilities throughout the chemical supply chain. Manufacturers of chemicals have a responsibility to provide emergency contact information in Section 1 of the SDSs for their products, and obviously the ability of end users to access and use that information helps them better protect their employees.

The great thing about a service like VelocityEHS ERS is that you can benefit from the expertise of our professionals no matter where you are in the supply chain. If you’re the manufacturer of a product, you can turn to us for support and get our toll-free number in Section 1 of your product SDSs, and on your labels and packaging so we can help field your customers’ medical exposure support and SDS inquires. If you’re a transporter, you can get instant information about the hazards of those chemicals, including instructions on response in the event of damaged packaged or released product. And if you’re an end user, we give you on-the-spot chemical exposure support to prevent serious injuries, and even save lives in the event of a chemical emergency, putting trained specialists with more than 70 years of combined emergency call center experience at the fingertips of you and your workers. This information is available to you in addition to and regardless of what information your suppliers may have provided in their SDSs, so you get an extra layer of protection for your workers.

Backed by our industry-leading database, your employees — global or domestic — also get unlimited, 24/7 email or fax access to your company’s inventory of SDSs through a convenient hotline. This not only helps protect your employees, but also helps ensure compliance with SDS right-to-know, accessibility and library back-up requirements of global hazard communication regulations.

And these are just some of the ways our Emergency Response Services can help! To learn more about how we can help and to request a quote, visit our Emergency Response Services page.