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Recognizing Poisons in Your Home and Garden

Exposure to poisons is a common problem. The Institute of Medicine estimates that the incidence of poisoning in the United States is approximately 4 million cases per year, with 300,000 cases leading to hospitalization, and approximately 30,000 deaths. In 2003-2004, poisoning accounted for 18 percent of all injury deaths and 10 percent of hospital discharges for injuries.

Poisoning is a significant public health issue for children. Each year in the United States, more than 1 million poison exposures among children younger than six years of age are reported to the American Association of Poison Control Centers (AAPCC). In addition, approximately 130,000 to 140,000 exposures are reported for children 6 to 12 years and 150,000 to 170,000 exposures for teenagers 13 to 19 years. Because not all poisoning exposures are reported to poison control centers, these numbers are most likely an underestimate.

Over 90 percent of poisoning exposures occur in homes. Household cleaners or chemicals in spray bottles are particularly dangerous because of their allure to children. They are colorfully packaged, often sweetly scented, and come with handles that just beg to be squeezed. One study by researchers at Nationwide Children’s Hospital found that spray bottles were implicated in 40 percent of all household cleaner poisonings involving children.

There are other items in your home and gardenĀ­ that could cause poisoning:


These are OK in the right amount for the right person. They can be dangerous for children who take the wrong medicine or swallow too much.

Topical anesthetics

These medicines can cause seizures or a condition called methemoglobinemia which keeps the blood from carrying oxygen to the tissues. Be especially careful with teething gels, hemorrhoid preparations, anti-itch creams, and sunburn relief agents.

Nail glue remover and nail primer

Some products used for artificial nails can be poisonous in surprising ways. Some nail glue removers have caused cyanide poisoning when swallowed by children. Some nail primers have caused burns to the skin and mouth of children who tried to drink them.


Some of the nastiest chemicals known to man go into pesticides, so keep them away from children. Not only do they present a poisoning danger, but most are toxic even to the touch, and should never be handled by children or pregnant women.

Fertilizer and lawn treatment chemicals

Much like pesticides, these can range from mildly toxic to potentially deadly. It’s especially important to watch younger kids to ensure they don’t pick up fertilizer pellets off the ground and eat them.

Rat poison

The American Association of Poison Control Centers receives 12,000 to 15,000 reports each year about children under the age of six being exposed to rat poisons. Garden variety rat poison pellets look a little too much like candy, granola, or cereal to a curious kid. Which is even more frightening when you consider that as little as 10 pellets of rat poison can kill a child.

Pool and hot tub chemicals

The chemicals used to treat water for pools and hot tubs are some of the most toxic chemicals you have around the house. Merely breathing in a strong dose of undiluted chlorine can kill a child or cause permanent lung damage. Treat these chemicals with extreme caution.

Accelerant’s and flammable chemicals

As a general rule, if you can light it on fire, it is going to be quite toxic to kids. Whether it be gasoline or chemicals like torch fuel, these accelerants can cause significant damage to a child’s esophagus, lungs, and digestive system. So even if a kid only takes a single gulp before realizing their mistake, it can still cause significant, sometimes life-altering damage.

Windshield washer solution and antifreeze

Small amounts of these liquids are poisonous to humans and pets. Windshield washer solution can cause blindness and death if swallowed. Antifreeze can cause kidney failure and death if swallowed. 


When children swallow alcohol, they can have seizures, go into a coma, or even die. This is true no matter where the alcohol comes from. Mouthwash, facial cleaners, and hair tonics can have as much alcohol in them as alcoholic beverages.

Tobacco products

Certain tobacco products, such as Camel Orbs or other dissolvable novelty products can be a danger. These tobacco lozenges look like Tic-Tacs and often taste like candy, and can poison little kids who may eat many.

Wild mushrooms

Many types of mushrooms grow in many areas. Some are deadly to eat. Only experts in mushroom identification can tell the difference between poisonous mushrooms and safe mushrooms.


It may seem counterintuitive, but toothpaste is the poison you put in your mouth. Its active ingredient is sodium fluoride of some type. While healthy for teeth, this is actually a reasonably toxic poison if ingested, which is why they say you should teach preschoolers to spit and why the tube says you need to call poison control if a child swallows more than what is used for brushing. While the overall concentration of sodium fluoride is small, usually around 0.24 percent, it could pose a real problem if a child ingests a significant amount eating it directly from the tube, which has been known to happen.