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The holidays are here! For many of us, that may mean happy gatherings with family and friends, time to sing songs and eat good food, and to unwind from another busy year. But we need to be careful that chemical products we use during our holiday festivities, including spray-on artificial snow and tree preservative, don’t create dangers for ourselves, our families and our pets.

In this latest installment of our Emergency Response Services (ERS) “Frontline Stories” blog series, we’ll review the types of chemical exposure that can happen, and share how better access to emergency response information can help no matter where you are in the chemical supply chain.

The Woes of “Santa Snow”

Spray-on artificial snow, often marketed under names like “Santa snow” or “Instant Xmas snow,” is commonly used for decorating indoor trees and windows. These products contain gas propellants, such as butane, propane, and heptane, which are held under pressure —creating a potential explosive hazard. They also may contain alcohols such as ethanol or ethoxylated fatty alcohol, and solid additives such as titanium dioxide and calcium carbonate for texture and color. Because of these ingredients, these spray-on artificial snow products can cause skin or eye irritation in the event of contact.

And while some SDSs for representative products indicate a low likelihood of ingestion, the number of calls our ERS representatives get about accidental ingestion scenarios suggests otherwise. While these accidental ingestions are very unlikely to be life threatening or result in serious injuries, they occur quite frequently and can happen in many different ways, as this sampling of our call reports shows:

  • Multiple callers reported that their cats had licked the fake snow off of windows or windowsills decorated with the product. The reports state that the cats in these incidents ranged from having no symptoms to relatively minor symptoms, like loss of appetite.
  • A caller reported that her dog had accidentally ingested some of the material after the played with a ball that had rolled through fake snow on the floor. According to the caller, the dog was refusing to eat and frequently drooling.
  • A caller stated that she had accidentally ingested some of the fake snow that had settled on food in her kitchen. She rinsed her mouth with water and was not experiencing any symptoms.

Preserve Your Trees, But Don’t Forget to Preserve Your Safety

For some people, getting a real, live Christmas tree is an important part of their holiday tradition, while for others (this author included), the prospect of sweeping up dry pine needles well into June is a powerful deterrent. But many who prefer that genuine, fresh pine smell are determined to make sure their tree makes it to the New Year. That means keeping it well-hydrated, and sometimes supplementing the water with commercially sold tree preservatives.

Already, we can easily see where the exposure risks come from. The preservatives are added to the water in the tree stand once the tree has been secured inside it. Filling the stand with water usually involves crawling under the tree’s bows (and shaking pine needles onto the floor) to reach the base.  It’s easier to pour the water from a smaller container, like a water glass. But if we leave the glass of mixed preservative sitting out, someone may unknowingly drink it. And, once we get the diluted preservative into our tree stand, our pets may think the liquid is fair game for drinking – that tree stand bowl might look to them like another water dish.

Tree preservative products are usually aqueous solutions, containing sugar and perhaps fungicides or small percentages of mildly alkali compounds like ammonium phosphate to inhibit microbial and fungal growth. Ingestion of these products probably won’t result in serious injury or illness, but may sometimes cause upset stomachs or vomiting depending on the dosage.

Here is a sampling of some of the reports of calls to our emergency response line:

  • A caller reported that her cat drank water from the Christmas tree stand that contained a dilute mixture of tree preservative. The cat had no observable symptoms of exposure.
  • Several callers stated that their dogs had ingested some of the tree preservative. The dogs in these cases reportedly varied in their level of symptoms, from having no observable symptoms to minor symptoms like loss of appetite.
  • A caller reported that her husband drank a glass of water containing diluted tree preservative that had been set on the kitchen counter. The caller had intended to set the glass there temporarily until the dilution could be added to the tree stand, and her husband had mistakenly assumed it was an ordinary glass of water.
  • A caller reported that her granddaughter drank the entire contents of a bottle of tree preservative in its concentrated (non-diluted) form.

In all of the above incidents, our call center representatives provided first aid guidance and health hazard information based on the SDS, and  poison control center numbers when needed.

In the last case, of the child who drank full-strength tree preservative, our representatives followed up with a nurse practitioner to give them the SDS to assist in providing medical treatment to the child. While we don’t always (or even often!) get a definitive “ending” to the stories we learn about through these calls, in this particular case, there was no indication that the child was in significant danger or would not be expected to recover.

Takeaways for Holiday Chemical Safety

While these incidents involving artificial snow and tree preservative are the most common calls our ERS call center reps get during this time of the year, they also get others. Our reps tell me that they sometimes get more calls related to use of heating gel cans, as we discussed in our last installment, for keeping food hot during holiday celebrations. And they also say that calls related to accidental ingestion of flower food still happen, because of all the flowers sent to loved ones or purchased for holiday decorations.

We can see from these examples that while many of us may be looking forward to celebrations with friends and family, we can’t afford to lose awareness of the chemical products we might be using. These cases show that exposures can happen in many different ways, including contact of sprayed fake snow products with food, and unanticipated contact with small children or pets. Most often, they won’t result in serious health problems, but they can still be dangerous, and can bring worry and sadness to what should be happy and peaceful times.

“We’ve had a busy season for calls already, and the holidays are just getting started,” says Juli Harvey, Manager of ERS Operations at VelocityEHS. “Exposures can result from many different products, so you have to keep your guard up.”

Remember, chemicals are everywhere, so we need to be aware at all times of the products we’re using, no matter where or when we’re using them. We especially need to be mindful of all of the ways that the usage of common holiday-related chemicals can cause accidental exposures to ourselves or others, like our children, partners, and pets.

Looking for More Information?

If you’d like more information about how emergency response services can provide fast access to chemical hazard information when you need it most, please check out our on-demand webinar “Frontline Stories”: True Stories About the Ways Emergency Response Services Help Users Throughout the Chemical Supply Chain.”

The Emergency Response Information You Need, When You Need It

The great thing about a service like VelocityEHS ERS is that you benefit from the expertise of our professionals no matter who you are and 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 on 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.

That’s the kind of access to the emergency response information you need, when you most need it, that can bring peace to you this holiday season, and throughout the new year.

As always, please feel free to contact us anytime to learn how VelocityEHS ERS can help keep you, your workers, and your customers safe.