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Accidental poisonings spike in Washington during the COVID-19 pandemic

Adrian Florez


Toxic exposures to cleaning products are up sharply since the pandemic began, according to the Washington Poison Center.

In the first half of the 2020, poisonings due to misuse of cleaners such as bleach or rubbing alcohol are up 54 percent over the same period last year. There are similar jumps in cases involving children who’ve ingested hand sanitizer, as well as cannabis.

Meghan King, a public health education and communications specialist at the Poison Center, says misuse of bleach is of particular concern: it’s up by 62 percent.

“They might be spraying it on their food that they bring home from the grocery store, or spraying it on their masks. And then they’re accidentally having these poisonous exposures,” she said.

King says she is not aware of calls to the Poison Center involving people intentionally ingesting bleach to treat or prevent COVID-19.

Much of the increase probably has to do with most of us being stuck at home, and stocked up on cleaning products, during the pandemic. But King says there are other reasons, too.

“The stress and anxiety in this time also plays a big role in this,” she said. “We’re ultimately a lot more distracted, we’re not as attentive to what’s going on around us. So, it’s very easy to make a mistake when you aren’t paying close attention.”

King says Washington is in line with national trends, which also show increases in accidental poisonings.

Gabriel Spitzer is a former KNKX reporter, producer and host who covered science and health and worked on the show Sound Effect.