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Utah Poison Control Center Seeing More Cleaning Product-Related Calls

A young child removes a bottle of a cleaning product from below a sink.
Antonio_Diaz via iStock
The United States has seen a spike in the number of cleaning product-related calls to poison control centers since the onset of the coronavirus — and Utah is no exception. ";

The Utah Poison Control Center has seen a rise in the number of calls coming in about cleaning products, hand sanitizers and disinfectants.

The center has fielded nearly 650 calls about household cleaning products since the beginning of the year — roughly 20% more calls than they received over the same time period in 2019.

The increased volume mirrors a national trend. A recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed that the nation’s 55 poison control centers have experienced a similar increase in cleaner-related calls.

In Utah, the uptick began in early March, when coronavirus concerns led many Americans to keep more cleaning products around, said Dr. Michael Moss, the medical director of the Utah Poison Control Center. 

“They are meant to be used on surfaces, and they are effective there. But they can be very harmful if someone were to drink them or ingest them or, even worse, try to do something like inject them,” he said, referring to a White House press briefing last week during which President Trump inquired about injecting disinfectant into COVID-19 patients.

A spokesperson for the Utah Poison Control Center told KUER that the center has not seen a detectable increase in calls following the president’s remarks.

But the center has recorded marked increases in other areas.

Calls involving dangerous exposure to hand sanitizer — like children drinking it — are up 58%. And roughly twice as many people as usual are reaching out about dangerous encounters with disinfectants, Moss said.

Moss added that most problems typically arise from three scenarios: people mixing chemicals at home, getting dangerous amounts of cleaners on their skin and products being left out where children can access them. 

None of the calls have been serious enough in Utah to require hospitalization, he said.

But that doesn’t mean recent trends aren’t troubling, said Stephanie Vetterli, a physician assistant specializing in primary and internal care.

“Anytime we hear about an increase in the number of accidental poisonings, that’s extremely concerning,” Vetterli said. “It’s something that no one wants to have happen, particularly a parent.”

Also a mother of three, she recommended that all households with young children store their cleaning products in their original packaging in child-safe locations, such as in high cabinets or areas with child-safe locks.

She added that the combination of schools shifting online and many Utahns stocking up on cleaning products has created more opportunities for accidental poisonings to occur.

If they do, Vetterli and Moss agreed on the proper protocol: call the Utah Poison Control Center immediately.

David Fuchs is a Report for America corps member who reports from KUER's Southwest Bureau in St. George. Follow David on Twitter @davidmfuchs.

David is a reporter and producer working on Sent Away, an investigative podcast series from KUER, The Salt Lake Tribune and APM Reports.
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