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Household Hydrocarbons Poison Prevention

You may not know it but hydrocarbons -- substances found in baby oil and in other household products -- pose a serious or even deadly risk to children if ingested into the lungs. Read the following information and protect your child from possible harm from seemingly innocuous household products.

Which products contain hydrocarbons?

Some of the things that contain hydrocarbons are not products you would normally consider harmful. Baby oil and suntan oil are two such products. Some common household products that contain hydrocarbons are mineral oil based cosmetics like bath oil, creams, lotions, and makeup removers. Other types of products include gasoline additives, motor oil, and waterproofing agents.

Why are hydrocarbons harmful?

If ingested into the lungs, hydrocarbons can coat the lungs and cause tissue damage, pneumonia, and even death. The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) finds that products made up of at least 10 percent hydrocarbon, and thin enough to flow freely, are the riskiest. Thicker products are harder to inhale, posing a lower risk.

What steps are being taken to protect children?

According to the CPSC, certain brands of consumer products containing hydrocarbons will need to install safety caps on the products. However, not all products containing hydrocarbons will have safety caps -- only those that pose a high risk because of their hydrocarbon content and their ability to flow freely and be inhaled.

What if I'm not sure about a particular product?

Often you can't tell how much hydrocarbon a product contains from the label, or you may not be familiar with a particular chemical and question whether it's a hydrocarbon or not. Contact the manufacturer for more information and keep the product out of your child's reach.

What can I do to protect my child?

According to the CPSC, parents should review product labels and place baby oil and other products containing hydrocarbons in a locked cabinet where children cannot reach them.

Also, read and implement these basic poison prevention tips from the CPSC in your home:

  • Use child-resistant packaging properly by closing the container securely after use.
  • Keep all chemicals and medicines locked up and out of sight.
  • Call the poison center immediately in case of poisoning at 1-800-222-1222, toll-free. You'll be connected to nurses, pharmacists, and doctors at the closest poison center.
  • Keep a bottle of syrup of ipecac on hand, but use it only if the poison center instructs you to induce vomiting.
  • When products are in use, never let young children out of your sight, even if you must take them along when answering the phone or doorbell.
  • Keep items in original containers.
  • Leave the original labels on all products, and read the label before using.
  • Do not put decorative lamps and candles that contain lamp oil where children can reach them.
  • Always leave the light on when giving or taking medicine. Check the dosage every time.
  • Avoid taking medicine in front of children. Refer to medicine as "medicine," not as "candy."
  • Clean out the medicine cabinet periodically and safely dispose of unneeded and outdated medicines.

Source: Consumer Product Safety Commission

Reviewed 2/02 by Jane Forester, MD

The information on this Web site is designed for educational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for informed medical advice or care. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat any health problems or illnesses without consulting your pediatrician or family doctor. Please consult a doctor with any questions or concerns you might have regarding your or your child's condition.