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Yard Care Substance Safety

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Yard Care Substance Safety

Jun 16, 2014

You’re spraying your lawn with weed killer when a gust of wind blows some of the chemical back into your face and eyes. How much trouble are you in? Poison Specialist Brad Dahl discusses yard care chemical safety and tells you what to do in case of contact with fertilizer, weed killers and insecticides. He also gives some storage tips to keep you and your family safe from these substances.

Episode Transcript

Interviewer: Weed killer, fertilizer, insecticide. How dangerous are they? We're going to find out next on The Scope.

Announcer: Medical news and research from Utah physicians and specialists you can use for a happier and healthier life. You're listening to The Scope. It's springtime now, a lot of people are out in their yards working on their lawn. Weed killer, fertilizer, insecticide commonly are used on lawns these days. We're going to find out how danger they are. We've got Brad Dahl who's a poison specialist from Utah Poison Control Center in the studio with us today. Brad, how dangerous are these things, weed killer, insecticide, fertilizer?

Brad Dahl: Well if you use them appropriately they're really not that dangerous. The real danger is that somebody might use them inappropriately, store them inappropriately, mix them up incorrectly so that they're too strong. Somebody accidentally drink them or a child get into them and then we potentially have a problem.

Interviewer: Let me just run through a few scenarios where people might get exposed to these on their skin. Let's say I'm out mixing some liquid week killer and I get some undiluted product on my skin. How dangerous is that?

Brad Dahl: It's not incredibly dangerous but if it stays on your skin very long it can make it really red and sore.

Interviewer: How long is too long?

Brad Dahl: Anything more than 10-15 minutes you're looking at risk for what we call a chemical burn.

Interviewer: And how long is that burn going to persist?

Brad Dahl: It depends on how bad it is. It can be days.

Interviewer: Really?

Brad Dahl: Yeah.

Interviewer: So the best thing to do would be...

Brad Dahl: When you get something on your skin, wash it off. Soap and water. Nothing fancy. When it all comes down to it nothing works better than soap and water for removing a lot of chemicals.

Interviewer: So soap and water, it's just that easy. You get that on your skin. You wash it off with soap and water. You go back out to work.

Brad Dahl: That is correct.

Interviewer: So you shouldn't wait and think, "I'm taking a shower in a couple of hours?"

Brad Dahl: Yeah. That's a bad idea. The biggest problem is that these are mostly irritants to the skin and it can cause chemical burns. It's just getting them on the skin and leaving them on so long that they end up with these burns, that's the real problem. I've had plenty of people who do that and they end up calling me because, "Ow, this really hurts. What do I do now?" It's kind of too late at that point. It's like burning your finger on the stove. Once you've done it, you've done it.

Interviewer: When I spray weed killer on some of the areas of my lawn I use a lawn sprayer and sometimes we use the lawn sprayer to spray our trees. Let's say I've got some tree spray or some weed killer and the wind blows some of that back onto me. Maybe it gets into my eye. Maybe it gets into my mouth. What kind of trouble am I in there?

Brad Dahl: As far as your mouth goes it's probably not enough to cause a problem. Certainly if you can taste it very strong you might want to rinse your mouth out with some water. You don't need soap for that. Just water is fine and spit it out and that should be fine. Getting in your eye, same thing. Luke warm water is what you want to use. A lot of people think you have to rinse your eyes with cold water because when you put cold water in your eye sit feels better because it's numbing the eyes and they think oh wow, that really helps. It doesn't get it out as well. Go for luke warm water for the eyes.

Interviewer: We mentioned fertilizer. We fertilize the lawn once or twice during the year. For instance at my house we use the granules and we put that out on the grass. How long before it's safe for my kids to go play on the lawn barefoot or even to just be out on the lawn or for me to go out on the lawn barefoot?

Brad Dahl: It's probably safe right away. The big problem with that stuff is again if it gets on your skin and it stays on very long it will make it red and sore. As soon as you've watered it in and it's dissolved, it's really not much of a risk.

Interviewer: What's if it's on there in dry granule form.

Brad Dahl: It's not that big of a problem if you walk on it. I wouldn't recommend barefoot because again it can make your feet sore but it's not a real serious risk.

Interviewer: Occasionally we'll get yellow jackets at the house so they'll be up in the eaves. We put traps out and stuff but that's never enough to take care of the problem so sometimes I have to get out there and spray the nest down. Let's say the insecticide blows back on me.

Brad Dahl: The number one thing when you're using a spray can is to make sure it's pointed in the right direction.

Interviewer: Obviously, yes.

Brad Dahl: Daily we get people who are spraying it directly into their face because they're not paying attention to which way the sprayer was pointed. That's the number one thing. If the wind is blowing always try to stay upwind of where you're spraying that would be the smart thing to do. Again, if you get enough on your skin that you can feel it and it's wet, wash it off with soap and water. If you can taste it just rinse your mouth at. It really shouldn't be that big of a problem.

Interviewer: How dangerous are insecticides for kids? Let's say a kid sees some ants or something out on the sidewalk and runs into the garage, grabs a can of insecticide, goes out there and tries to spray the ants and doesn't have the sprayer pointed in the right direction and sprays it on his face or gets it on his hand.

Brad Dahl: That's a really good question. If you bought it at the store premixed it's probably going to be really safe. It's not designed to hurt people it's designed to kill insects which is much tinier. The poisons that are used in these things, the insects are much more sensitive to them than we are. Our bodies break them down really quickly so they're really not that dangerous to us. A lot of times there's more chemicals in there to get the stuff in the solution that are actually more irritating to us than the actual pesticide is. If a kid is playing with it and they get it on them you want to wash it off as soon as possible. If they get it in their mouth it's better just to give them something to drink than to try and wash a two year olds mouth out. The amount that they swallow is not enough that's going to hurt them at that point. You just don't want it sitting around in their mouth so get them something good to drink. People often wonder what's the best thing to give my kid to drink when they eat something that's bad for them. My answer is whatever they will drink freely. So, if they don't like to drink water, don't give them water. Plus, usually these things taste nasty and if you give them water it's going to still taste nasty and they won't want to drink that. Give them something that tastes really good. Something they like a lot and you don't have to give a lot. Some people think it says on the bottle I have to give 88 ounces. No you don't. You only have to give enough to push it down to the stomach. So, a couple of good swallows is fine and we never want to force fluids on a little kid because we don't want them to gag and we don't want them to throw up.

Interviewer: Why wouldn't you want them to throw up?

Brad Dahl: Because all of these things really aren't that dangerous in the gut. Again, it's the contact time on the tissue in the mouth and throat that's the sensitive tissue. We'd rather it go down to the stomach and it keep going from there. If you bring it back sometimes kids will gag and a little bit will go into their lungs and that's a real problem. We don't want it in there. Of course, it can be more irritating to their mouth coming back up. It's better just to have them drink and keep it down.

Interviewer: It sounds to me like these three things, weed killer, fertilizer, and insecticide are pretty safe to use if you're using them as directed and you're following instruction and you're not over-concentrating them but the thing you really want to be concerned about is avoiding accidental contact so especially with kids so keeping stuff where they're not going to get it, first of all. Then when you're using it wearing some protective equipment.

Brad Dahl: Yeah. That's always a good idea. People like to go out during the summer wearing no shirt. Short. No shoes. They get the stuff all over them and again, that's a really common call I get. I'm in the house now, I've showered and now my feet are really sore and I've been spraying stuff all day. At that point it's too late to do anything.

Interviewer: Has there ever been a situation where a person has called from getting a fertilizer, insecticide or weed killer on themselves or ingested it to the degree that you've actually recommended a medical intervention?

Brad Dahl: Yeah. We've had people that have had the concentrated solutions and they for whatever reason had it in a container that was not the original container, not a sprayer and somebody grabbed it and drank it thinking it was a beverage. We had to send them in for an evaluation for that. That happened. Again, leave things in the original containers. Make sure if you use a sprayer that it's marked appropriately so people know what's in it so there's no mystery about it. Never use old beverage containers to store things in your garage because somebody is going to come by. You might know what's in there but you'd be surprised how many people come into other people's garages and go, "Hey, there's a sports drink. I think I'm going to have some of that and then it turns out to be insecticide.

Interviewer: If you use these things correctly and keep them in their normal containers and you just use a little bit of common sense you're probably not going to get yourself into trouble with either of these things.

Brad Dahl: That's brilliant. That's all I can say about that. Brilliant.

Announcer: We're your daily dose of science, conversation, medicine. This is The Scope. University of Utah Health Sciences Radio.