Image courtesy the Washington Poison Center.

Image courtesy the Washington Poison Center.

Poison Center records increase in poison exposures during COVID-19

Poison exposures from the misuse of chemicals spiked 53 percent in the early days of the pandemic.

A new report from the Washington Poison Center shows that there has been an increase of calls regarding potentially dangerous exposures to hand sanitizer, bleach, rubbing alcohol, and other household cleaners at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to the report, published May 19, there was a 52 percent increase in the number of calls made to the poison center regarding children ages 0 to 12 being exposed to hand sanitizer between Jan. 1 and April 27.

Additionally, it appears there was a 53 percent increase in the number of incidents where cleaning agents were being “misused.”

But before any conclusions are jumped to, it should be noted that “exposures” to chemicals and chemicals being “misused” doesn’t always mean that someone was poisoned.

An exposure is “any suspected or actual contact with a substance which has been ingested, inhaled, absorbed, or injected into the body regardless of toxicity or clinical manifestation,” said Dr. Erica Liebelt, medical director of the Poison Center.

Liebelt gave the example of a mother sanitizing her child’s hands before eating, and the child rubs their eyes.

Even if the child was showing no symptoms, “If mom called us… to make sure she wouldn’t have to worry about anything… we code that as an exposure call,” Liebelt said. “We also look at outcomes, and we would code ‘no effect’” for this particular example.

“A poisoning… is when an exposure results in an adverse reaction,” she continued, expanding on her example of the mother and child — if the child starts to cry or say they’re in pain, that would be coded as a minor poisoning.

“Misuse” of chemicals is also a term that trips some people up, Liebelt said — it means using the chemicals in an incorrect manner (like mixing chemicals or not diluting), rather than abusing chemicals in order to get high (that’s classified as an “intentional” exposure).

“I’ll give you a great example — [mixing] bleach with the ammonia in the toilet. So common,” she continued. “All of a sudden, they start having difficulty breathing because there’s a gas emitted called chloramine gas.”

Some of the calls that went to the Poison Center involved exposures that were common before COVID-19, like the bleach/ammonia situation, Liebelt said. But others are specifically related to the coronavirus.

“People are taking spray disinfectants and spraying their homemade cloth masks with it. Then they put the cloth mask on their face and they start inhaling the fumes. Or, they’re soaking their masks in bleach to clean them,” Liebelt said. “Public Health recommends washing your masks with soap and water.”

Liebelt stressed that the Poison Center did not receive any calls that may have been related to President Donald Trump’s April 24 statement of using disinfectants “by injection” to kill the coronavirus.

The Poison Center report also detailed how many calls it was taking during the pandemic’s earliest moments.

It appears the Poison Center started to receive marginally more calls after Jan. 22, which was when the state supposedly discovered the first case of COVID-19 in Washington.

However, calls spiked from between 25 and 75 calls a day to more than 300 days before the first death was reported on Feb. 28, and continued to be high for several more days after Gov. Jay Inslee declared a state of emergency on March 1.

Another spike in calls, which tripled from 50 per day to about 150, happened when Inslee’s first announced his ban on gatherings of more than 250 people on March 10.

It appears call volumes returned to normal from March 15 until April 27, the end date of the report.


In consideration of how we voice our opinions in the modern world, we’ve closed comments on our websites. We value the opinions of our readers and we encourage you to keep the conversation going.

Please feel free to share your story tips by emailing editor@bothell-reporter.com.

To share your opinion for publication, submit a letter through our website https://www.bothell-reporter.com/submit-letter/. Include your name, address and daytime phone number. (We’ll only publish your name and hometown.) We reserve the right to edit letters, but if you keep yours to 300 words or less, we won’t ask you to shorten it.

More in News

File photo
State Supreme Court strikes down $30 car-tab initiative

Justices unanimously agreed that voter-approved Initiative 976 is unconstitutional.

A suspect in a carjacking hangs almost 60 feet up in a tree after climbing it to avoid police on Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2020 near Mill Creek, Wa. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
After gunfire, Bothell carjacking suspect climbs a tree

He allegedly passed a trooper at 114 mph on a motorcycle, crashed, stole a car, fled gunshots and climbed 60 feet.

Hilary Franz (left) and Sue Kuehl Pederson
Wildfires, forest health are key issues in race to lead DNR

Republican Sue Kuehl Pederson is challenging incumbent Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz.

power grid electricity power lines blackouts PG&E (Shutterstock)
State extends moratorium on some electric, gas shutoffs

Investor-owned electric and natural gas utilities in WA can’t disconnect customers through April.

Cecil Lacy Jr. (Family photo)
Court: New trial in case of man who told police ‘Can’t breathe’

Cecil Lacy Jr. of Tulalip died in 2015 while in police custody.

A Sept. 10 satellite image shows smoke from U.S. wildfires blanketing the majority of the West Coast. (European Space Agency)
University of Washington professors talk climate change, U.S.-China relations

Downside for climate policy supporters is it can risk alienating moderate or right-leaning voters.

Sightseers at a Snoqualmie Falls viewpoint adjacent to the Salish Lodge & Spa on Feb. 19, 2020. Natalie DeFord/staff photo
25 COVID cases linked to Salish Lodge

Public Health is urging anyone who visited the lodge to monitor for symptoms or get tested.

The nose of the 500th 787 Dreamliner at the assembly plant in Everett on Sept. 21, 2016. (Kevin Clark / Herald, file)
Report: Boeing will end 787 Dreamliner production in Everett

Boeing declined comment on a Wall Street Journal story saying the passenger jet’s assembly will move to South Carolina.

Car hits hydrant and power pole in Bothell

Luckily there were no injuries

Washington State Capitol Building in Olympia. File photo
Surge in consumer spending eases state budget challenges

A jump in tax collections cuts a projected $9 billion shortfall in half, acccording to new forecast.

Rendering of the completed boathouse. Courtesy photo/City of Kenmore
Kenmore project will bring public rowing to Rhododendron Park

The project will create a boathouse for both public and school district use

High speed rail and hub cities explored in Cascadia Corridor study

A new paper outlines a potential plan for the region.