National Poison Prevention Week

Keep Pesticides and Other Chemicals in Their Original Containers to Prevent Poisonings

By Darlene Dinkins

Neighbors often save money by sharing things like tools and lawn and garden products. But, sometimes a neighbor’s good intentions may lead to tragic consequences – like when a neighbor shares a weed control product and gives it to you in an old water bottle. His good intentions could quickly turn dangerous if someone mistakes the bottle for a beverage.

Poison centers are all too familiar with accidental poisonings that occur after a person ingests a chemical that was transferred from its original container into a beverage container. In California, poison centers identified more than 1,400 cases of accidental poisoning caused by storage of non-food substances in soda bottles, unmarked bottles, cups, or glasses from 1998 to 2009. For example, there was the case of a 49-year-old man who reached for his coffee cup and took a sip while working in the barn one morning. He forgot that he had just poured an herbicide into his cup because he was concerned about the deterioration of the original pesticide bottle when he initially opened the container.

National Poison Prevention Week is March 16-22. It’s a time to raise awareness about simple steps that we can all take to prevent poisoning. I want to highlight the dangers of removing pesticides and other household chemicals from their original containers and storing them in bottles or cans that can be mistaken for beverages. One of the simplest ways to prevent poisoning is to always keep products in their original containers. Product labels contain valuable use instructions, important precautions, and first aid information that is needed in case of an emergency.

Take action to prevent a poisoning from occurring in your home:

  • Post the Poison Control Center national helpline number, 1-800-222-1222, near your phone or program the number into your phone’s speed dial feature.
  •  Read the product label first before using a product and follow the directions to the letter.
  •  Never transfer pesticides and other household chemical products to containers that may be mistaken for food or beverages.
  • Don’t use empty pesticide containers to store anything else. Even if you wash the container, it could still contain residues of the pesticide and could hurt someone.
  • Seal products after each use and store them out of children’s reach.
  • If you use mouse or rat poison, use products with tamper-resistant bait stations to protect children and pets.
  • Remove children, pets, and toys before applying pesticides either inside or outside your home.
  • Follow label directions to determine when children and pets can re-enter the area that has been treated.

Poisoning incidents are preventable. Take these steps today and help us raise awareness of how to prevent poisonings and exposures to household cleaners and pesticides.

About the author: Darlene Dinkins is in Communications Services Branch of EPA’s Office of Pesticide Programs. Darlene represents EPA on the Poison Prevention Week Council, which promotes National Poison Prevention Week, and distributes the Council’s materials and messages.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Proper Cleaning Prevents Poisonings

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By Lina Younes

Among the fondest memories of my childhood was the time that I spent at my grandmother’s home in Old San Juan. I loved walking through the city with such a rich history and unique architecture. Every time I visit the Island, I take a stroll through the old city and memory lane.

I remember one day, I must have been around 9 or 10. I attempted to help my grandmother in cleaning around the house. I wanted to make her proud of my efforts. So I started mixing some of the cleaning products under the misguided notion that “more is better.”  To this date, I still have a very vivid image of my cleaning experiment. I remember one of the liquid cleaners was a dark amber color that when you diluted it in water it would become white. The other was some sort of clear liquid. However, when I made my cleaning concoction, it turned into a bright red! I quickly flushed the cleaning potion down the toilet. It was a good thing that it didn’t explode, but who knows what chemical reaction occurred! I guess I will never find out, but that leads me to the real subject of this blog entry: how to prevent accidental poisonings and exposures to chemicals. The issue is very timely given that we are celebrating National Poison Prevention Week.

Here are some tips to prevent accidental poisonings:

  • At EPA we stress the fact that “the label is the law.” Read labels carefully and follow instructions when using household cleaning products and pesticides.
  • As I learned from my experience decades ago, mixing products will not make your house cleaner. In fact, mixing cleaning household cleaners and pesticides can be dangerous.
  • Always keep cleaning products away from children’s reach. If you are in the process of cleaning and you get a phone call or someone knocks on the door, don’t keep the cleaning products unattended. That can be an accidental poisoning waiting to happen.
  • Since most poisonings occur in the home, make sure that you household cleaners and pesticides are properly stored. We even have a checklist to help you in a room-by-room inspection to ensure safety.

So, if in spite of your best efforts, someone in your home becomes accidentally exposed to a toxic chemical, please call the National Poison Control Centers at 1-800-222-1222. There are English and Spanish-speaking operators available round the clock anywhere in the United States, including Puerto Rico.

About the author: Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and currently serves the Multilingual Outreach and Communications Liaison for EPA. She manages EPA’s social media efforts in Spanish. Prior to joining EPA, she was the Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rican newspapers and she has worked for several government agencies.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Reading Labels Can Save Lives, Part 2

By Lina Younes

Last week, I conducted several interviews for National Poison Prevention Week. I was often asked about the causes of poisonings. According to statistics compiled by the American Poison Control Centers, many of these poisons belong to products commonly found in our homes. Regardless of the specific “poison” involved, there is a common thread in the large majority of poisonings. Most of them can be prevented by reading the label first.

As I mentioned last week, having stopped to read the label prevented a poisoning in my home. Yet, there have been other poisonings prevented in my home by reading the label. For example, I remember when my older children were in elementary school, we received a notice of a lice infestation. Several days later, I realized that those “dandruff flakes” in their hair were actually lice. Of course, I rushed to the nearest drugstore to stock up on anti-lice products. I bought shampoos, special combs, and a pesticide for the bedding. When I got home, I quickly proceeded to wash their hair with the lice shampoo. I was tempted to leave the shampoo in their hair for a long time to make sure there were no further remnants of lice, but that sixth sense told me to read the instructions. The label said to rinse it out after 10 minutes!

What would have happened if I had left the chemicals in their hair for too long? Well, the chemicals would have been absorbed through their scalp and could have poisoned my children. It would have been as simple as that.

How many times do we actually apply multiple cleaning products at the same time so they will “clean better?” How many times do we empty a whole can of insecticide when we see one lowly cockroach in the house? How many times do we combine over-the-counter medications to supposedly get rid of a cold faster?

If you read the label, you will clearly see that you need to apply pesticides, cleaning products, beauty products, and even medications properly to protect yourself and your family. The label clearly provides instructions on the application, dosage, and duration. Reading might take some extra time, but it can save a life. Have you had similar experiences that you would like to share with us?

About the author: Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and currently serves as acting associate director for environmental education. Prior to joining EPA, she was the Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rican newspapers and she has worked for several government agencies.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Reading Labels Can Save Lives!

By Lina Younes

Several years ago we got a puppy for my youngest daughter. While there was great anticipation for the puppy’s arrival, there was one thing that we didn’t expect: a flea infestation. Upon the puppy’s arrival, we all started itching. The fleas quickly made themselves at home in the dog’s bedding and in our living room sofa, everywhere! I had thought of using a fogger,  but didn’t think that would address the problem of the fleas on the dog and throughout house. So, I went to the nearest pet shop to get the strongest flea control product available to get rid of those unwanted critters! I bought several dog shampoos and the biggest jug on the shelf. The front label had “kills fleas” written on it so I immediately snatched it and proceed to pay for all the products that were going to make my home flea free.

First thing we did was give the dog a nice bath with the flea control shampoo. Then I wanted to apply liquid flea product that came in that big jug. Before I even opened it, I read the label first. How would I administer it? Did I have to dilute it? Spray it? Apply it directly to the floors, carpets, upholstery? I wasn’t thinking of safety then, my main focus was to get rid of the pests! Well, it’s a good thing that I stopped to read the back label for instructions. The product was to be used in barns where there are horses, not in homes where there are small children and small pets!

I cringe at the thought of what would have happened if I had started pouring that thing left and right as I really felt like doing. Talk about a pesticide poisoning in the making if that product had been applied incorrectly. Bottom line, I just endured the flea problem a bit longer. The following morning I returned the product to the store and bought what I needed to get rid of the problem and protect my family.

So, during National Poison Prevention Week, please handle pesticide products and household chemicals properly. Keep them out of children’s reach and remember to read the label for key information on how to use properly and First Aid instructions. Have you had similar experiences? We would love to hear from you.

About the author: Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and currently serves as acting associate director for environmental education. Prior to joining EPA, she was the Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rican newspapers and she has worked for several government agencies.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Bilingual labeling

By Lina Younes

When I first joined the Agency in 2002, I was responsible for doing outreach to Spanish-language media and Hispanic organizations. As part of my job, I worked closely with EPA offices, especially with the Office of Pesticide Programs, to increase Hispanic awareness on the safe use of pesticides and other environmental issues. Even today, I recall one of my very first live radio interviews during National Poison Prevention Week At the end of the interview, there was a call-in segment. The last question was from a lady who painted the following scenario: “What if I don’t have a phone and my child swallows some detergent accidentally, what do I do? Do I make him throw up or do I give him milk? What should I do?” Well, I told her to “read the label first” where she would find valuable information regarding what to do in case of an emergency. Still to this day I think of the situation and imagine if she was physically isolated by not having a phone, it was possible she might be linguistically isolated as well. Therefore, if she only read Spanish having an English-only label would not provide the necessary information to help her child in their time of need.

I remember that the issue of bilingual labeling came up during a meeting of the Pesticide Program Dialogue Committee ,  a federal advisory committee, in 2006. Both the Consumer Labeling Workgroup and the Workgroup on Worker Safety discussed the issue of bilingual labeling, although they couldn’t reach agreement on a recommendation for the Agency. Since then, we’ve seen an increasing number of companies that produce household use pesticides with bilingual labeling. I spoke with several company representatives who noted they had taken those steps both for health AND economic reasons. With the increase in Hispanic purchasing power, bilingual labels improved their bottom line.

In December of 2009, EPA received a petition from the Migrant Clinicians Network, Farmworker Justice and other farm worker interest groups asking the Agency to require that pesticide manufacturers produce their products with labels both in English and Spanish. The Agency is currently accepting public comments on this petition from interested stakeholders. We would like to hear from you. For more information on the announcement and how to submit public comments, visit our website.   What do you think?

About the author: Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and currently serves as Acting Associate Director for Environmental Education. Prior to joining EPA, she was the Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rican newspapers and she has worked for several government agencies.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

A Hard Lesson in Poison Prevention…Children Really Do Act Fast

By Darlene Dinkins

I knew the slogan by heart, “Children act fast, so do poisons,” could recite prevention tips in my sleep, and rattle off poisoning data. Still, by the end of the evening, I found myself frantically calling the Poison Control Center for help.

It was a typical evening of trying to wrestle my 1-year-old son and 2-½-year-old daughter into the bath and bed by 7:30 pm. My husband and I usually shared this wonderful duty, but he wasn’t home, so I had the honor to myself. As I turned back to help my son, I heard the “ssssssssss” of aerosol and Niya’s scream, “My eyes! Mommy…my eyes!” When I turned around and saw Niya, her eyes were closed tight. She was holding a disinfectant can. I grabbed her and ran to the bathroom to flush her face with cool water and tried to calm her. Meanwhile, I couldn’t help but think about how this would affect her vision. Is the chemical burning her eyes? Should I take her to the emergency room? At that point, I started to panic and decided to call Poison Control. The poison center expert I spoke to on the phone was courteous, informative, and calm. She confirmed that flushing with cool running water was best. My daughter was fine. I was relieved.

That incident happened nearly 12 years ago, but I still think about it every March as I prepare for National Poison Prevention Week. I still remember the relief I felt – for immediate access, expertise, and reassurance from the poison center.

That day I learned the true value of the 60 American Association of Poison Control Centers nationally. The relief, knowing that Niya would be fine, and that I didn’t need to take her to the emergency room was priceless.

I was also reminded about the need to be diligent: keeping household chemicals out of children’s reach, using child-resistant packaging properly by closing the container tightly after use, and reclosing products if I’m interrupted.

And, the most memorable thing I learned that evening was that children really do act fast.
For tips on preventing poisonings, visit

About the author: Darlene Dinkins has been working for EPA since 1992 and has served on the Poison Prevention Week Council since 1995. She assists with coordinating national efforts to educate the public on preventing poisonings.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.