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Dangerous Substances Lurking in Your Garage

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Dangerous Substances Lurking in Your Garage

Jun 03, 2014

Power tools, auto fluids and cans of paint – you keep a lot of potentially dangerous things in your garage. Some are more dangerous than others. Poison specialist Brad Dahl warns about the dangers of what’s hiding on the shelves of your home. He also discusses what to do when a dangerous substance is ingested and immediate action is required.

Episode Transcript

Interviewer: The most dangerous thing in the garage, that's next on The Scope.

Announcer: Medical news and research from University Utah Physicians and Specialists you can use, for a happier, healthier life. You're listening to the scope.

Interviewer: There are a lot of dangerous things in the garage and today on The Scope; we're going to talk about what the most dangerous things are. We're here with Brad Dahl, who's a poison expert at the Utah Poison Control Center. Brad, what is the most dangerous thing in the garage?

Brad Dahl: Well, there are actually two things I'm most concerned about. And that is antifreeze, the stuff you use in your car, in the radiator. And windshield washer fluid, which you also use in your car, that blue stuff that your squirt on your windshield especially during the winter to clean it off...

Interviewer: Yeah.

Brad Dahl: Those are the two most dangerous things.

Interviewer: Now why are they the most dangerous?

Brad Dahl: Well, let's start with the windshield washer fluid. A lot of people think that because it's blue it's the same thing that's in Windex, it's not it contains methanol which is a very dangerous alcohol. One teaspoon of that is enough to potentially cause blindness, in an adult. So, as you can see a child gets into that, gets the container open, potentially takes a swallow of it, that's enough to be, to cause blindness or be potential fatal.

Interviewer: Wow. I mean, it looks like blue Kool-Aid.

Brad Dahl: It does, it looks like a sports drink. I mean, all you have to do is go down the beverage isle in the supermarket and you're going to see a lot of things that look like it.

Interviewer: Do you get a lot of calls about windshield washer fluid at the control center?

Brad Dahl: Yeah, we get a fair amount of calls about that. It's not always children either, sometimes it is adults and it's usually because they've taken it out of the original container and put it into another container. Sometimes even a water bottle. We have people that keep it in their cars because the sprayer on their cars doesn't work very well, so they just keep a bottle of it in a water bottle you can squirt and so they'll reach around the windshield and squirt the windshield. Then somebody else gets in the car and says "Oh it's a water bottle, I'll take a sip of that." And then they do, and again that's enough to potentially be a real serious problem.

Interviewer: In an adult, what is the risk of blindness if you drink that?

Brad Dahl: Methanol, as it's broken down in the body, it effects the eyes and it will actually effect the optic nerves and it's not a reversible blindness. It does other things too, and it's the other things that can potentially kill you, and again a good swallow of that is potentially deadly. The good news is, we can treat it, but it's not something we can treat at home we have to do it in a hospital.

Interviewer: And how is it treated?

Brad Dahl: There is an antidote, Antizol is the brand name, we give that to the patient and it blocks the conversion.

Interviewer: So, swallowing it is obviously a dangerous thing? Swallowing this windshield washer fluid, what about if it splashes up in your eyes or gets on your skin, any danger there?

Brad Dahl: It's not so bad on the skin, although it is absorbed a little bit so you definitely want to wash it off you don't want to leave it on for very long. In the eyes, it's very painful and you can imagine just getting perfume in your eye because it's an alcohol, it burns. It usually doesn't cause damage to the eye but it just really burns. So you need to get it out and that's the big risk with that. As far as absorbing into the body, you'd have to get a lot on your skin or in your eyes to be a real problem.

Interviewer: Let's say someone swallows windshield washer fluid, how long do they have to get some help before things get really bad?

Brad Dahl: The bad news is, it's absorbed really fast. The good news is that we do have time to prevent the real problems from happening. We have hours to deal with here, certainly you want to get in as soon as possible because we need to draw blood and we need to see exactly how much you have and what you're risk is, but we can give you the antidote right away. Once we give you the antidote we have 12 hours before we have to worry about anything happening.

Interviewer: So it sounds like the best way to protect yourself from being poisoned by windshield washer fluid is to just keep it in the bottle it comes in, and keep it up on a shelf where it's away and inaccessible until you need to use it.

Brad Dahl: Yeah, certainly. If a child can't get at it, that's the best thing to do, but if they do get at it these things come with safety caps on them, and of course a lot of people feel well those are child proof caps, well there is no such thing as child proof they're called safety caps. They are child resistant, they are to slow the child down, because the whole idea is if your child gets a bottle of something that's really dangerous, that you're not that far away that you can get to them before they can actually get it off. So if you leave them in the garage for long periods of time, that's were we run into some problems. Because they will eventually get that cap off, they're very determined.

Interviewer: Lets get to antifreeze, you mentioned antifreeze at the beginning of the podcast. What's the danger with antifreeze? Why is that so dangerous in the garage?

Brad Dahl: Again, antifreeze doesn't take much to be a problem. And I think that's the important thing to understand is that one really good swallow of antifreeze is enough to damage your kidneys, and it can be permanent as well, I mean most of these people rebound with appropriate therapy but sometimes they're kidneys are lost.

Interviewer: And how much is dangerous?

Brad Dahl: Anything more than a mouthful.

Interviewer: The same question as we talked about with the windshield washer fluid, if a person ingests antifreeze how long do they have to get help before things turn bad for their kidneys?

Brad Dahl: You don't want to waste time with either one of those things, but they are very treatable in a hospital we can't deal with these things at home.

Interviewer: Is there an antidote to antifreeze?

Brad Dahl: Yeah, it's actually the exact same antidote we use for the windshield washer fluid.

Interviewer: So what is the first thing you should do if you go out in the garage or the yard and you find that your kid is playing in the antifreeze or with the windshield washer fluid?

Brad Dahl: The most important thing to do is to call the poison center first, and we'll ask you some quick questions and we'll decide if you do need to do anything to treat them right then. It's much better, now day's people go right to their smart phones or go to the Internet and try to read about these things, and then it's about an average of 20 minutes before they figure out that "Oh man, I got a problem." And then they call us, and 20 minutes can be a real important amount of time, as far as getting this off the child or sending them into the hospital if they need to go in.

Interviewer: So it's more important to call poison control first than it is to wash them off first and then call?

Brad Dahl: Yeah. I would definitely do that, because we're fast we'll answer the phone right away and we'll tell you if you need to wash them off or what you need to do. So it's always best to call us first, and the number for Poison Control and this is a nationwide number, no matter where you're at in the United States if you dial it you will get the local poison center and the number's 1-800-222-1222. Again that's good throughout the United States or U.S. Territories.

Interviewer: Great, thanks for being with us today Brad.

Brad Dahl: Sure, anytime.

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