Feature Title: Back to School Lists, What one item could be harmful to your child?
By: Susan L. Foret
Date : August 2007
t is back to school shopping time and parents may notice one supply on their child’s supply list that is potentially dangerous. Many supplies harbor the potential to hurt a child if he uses it in a way that was not as intended, but a growing concern has risen from one supply in particular–hand sanitizer.
Hand sanitizers are considered safe if used as directed and under the direct supervision of an adult, but if ingested, they can cause dangerous and potentially lethal side effects to small children.
Many of the hand sanitizers available contain 60 to 65 percent ethyl alcohol, the same alcohol in beer, whiskey or wine. Simply put, a two-ounce bottle of hand sanitizer contains the same alcohol content as four shots of vodka.
Though there are not any documented cases of children dying from hand sanitizer consumption and representatives from both Our Lady of the Lake and Baton Rouge General Hospital indicated that they have not treated any pediatric patients who have consumed hand-sanitizer, hundreds of incidences of hand sanitizer ingestion have occurred nationwide, and reports show that there have been 12,000 cases in 2006 and more than 6,600 cases this year nationwide.
Since January, there have been 58 calls to the Louisiana Poison Control Center concerning ingestion of hand sanitizer. Eight of those calls have been from East Baton Rouge Parish, according to Mark Ryan, Director of the Louisiana Poison Control Center.
Many parents have heard the story of Sydney Moe, a three-year-old from Minnesota who consumed enough hand sanitizer to cause her to go to the emergency room, where her blood and urine tests confirmed she was intoxicated with a blood alcohol level of 0.10.
“I thought that germ stuff was yummy,” said Sydney Moe. “It tasted like soap.”
Hand sanitizers contain a bitterant, a foul-tasting additive, that discourages consumption, but many companies offer hand sanitizers in seemingly appealing scents such as Germ X’s “Awesome Orange” and “Gnarly Green Apple,” as well as a variety of scents such as “Pink Grapefruit” and “Sparkling Peach” available through bath and body shops.
“The typical scenario is that a small child will be spitting and salivating afterwards and wanting something to drink to get rid of the taste,” explained Ryan. “A lick or a taste is not enough to cause any problems,”
According to Ryan, many household products such as hairspray, mouthwash, and even cologne and perfume contain high levels of ethanol–up to 98 percent and parents should consider it harmful. “If it looks bad, smells bad, it is bad if a child is exposed to it.” He urges that parents put anything potentially dangerous in a locked cabinet or put it up while their child is not looking, so the child does not know where you keep a particular item.
With all the potential danger and circulating stories, if hand sanitizers are so dangerous, why are schools putting it on their supply lists?
“Hand washing remains the most important way to clean our children’s hands, but when we are away from soap and water, sanitizers are great products,” explained Dr. Chris Funes, who uses hand sanitizer on his own 14-month old child.
Dr. Funes explained that these products are not toxic when they are used properly, but they need adult supervision like any other cleaning product. “The danger is not from licking hands after washing with the sanitizer–the danger is from consuming significant amounts by mouth,” said Funes.
“We certainly wouldn’t leave our child unattended with a bottle of toilet bowl cleaner, or vodka; and we shouldn’t leave our children unattended with hand sanitizer,” explained Funes.
Some area schools have decided to err on the side of caution, regardless of the safety of the product.
Ascension Parish has outlawed the use of hand sanitizers in the classrooms. Teachers can have their own bottles, but they are directed to keep it out of students’ reach. “They are not to use it on students,” explained Libby Stafford, Director of Elementary Education for Ascension Parish.
She said that three years ago a regulatory agency recommended that they do not use it on their students so they discontinued purchasing it and providing it for the schools.
“As always, kids’ safety is one of our highest priorities,” said Stafford.
In contrast, Livingston Parish does not have such regulations. “This hasn’t been an issue for us,” explained Lloyd Wax, Assistant Superintendent of Livingston Parish Public Schools. “There is always something, though, remember the problems with liquid paper?”
No responsible parent or teacher wants a child to become intoxicated, but the potential for a child to consume enough hand-sanitizer for intoxication exists if a child is not watched closely before the sanitizer dries.
According to Sydney Moe’s mother, Jennifer, Sydney was only in the bathroom for “a minute,” which is enough time for any child to consume enough hand sanitizer to hurt herself.
Even a small portion of hand sanitizer (dime-sized squirt) can take as long as 30 seconds to dry and could give an unsupervised child enough time to eat it off his hands.
How much is enough?
Using a 10 fluid ounce bottle of Germ-X Original on a 12 year-old child, it took the following times to dry:
17 seconds–when rubbing hands constantly
30 seconds–when rubbing hands together once
45 seconds–when rubbing constantly
One minute and seven seconds when rubbing hands together once
Though the amount of hand sanitizer released from one full pump depression from a 10 fluid ounces bottle of Germ-X was about the size of a quarter, reports indicate that the proper use of a hand sanitizer requires squirting a dime-sized amount into your hands and rubbing them until they are completely dry. Once the hand sanitizer is completely evaporated from your hands, then it is safe to eat or handle food.
Hand sanitizers are regulated by the FDA and do have specific warnings on their labels such as “Keep out of reach of children.” This label does not mean the product is not to be used on children.
If hand-sanitizer is on your child’s supply list and you are concerned with potential consumption and health hazards, there are non-alcohol hand-sanitizers, which offer the same “99 percent germ-free” protection. Such products include:
▪ CVS’s pocket-sized hand-sanitizer spray
▪ Clean-Well Natural Hand Sanitizer with Ingenium
▪ Soapopular’s Foaming Hand Sanitizer
▪ GentleCare’s Non Alcohol Foaming Hand Sanitizer
▪ Hands2Go Foaming Instant Hand Sanitizer
Those most at risk for ingesting hand sanitizers are people dependent on alcohol, or who abuse it, and those with mental illness or have a history of ingesting non-food items. Since there is also a risk for curious children and teens and accidental ingestion by small children, parents should be aware that unlike some products such as cough syrup and spray paint, there are no age limitations for anyone to purchase hand sanitizers that contain ethyl alcohol.