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How to Spot the Springtime Hazards Hiding in Your Garage

Spring is the time of year when we often take on our biggest cleaning challenges. And as you’re clearing out your shed or garage clutter, there’s a good chance you’ll come across some hazardous materials, products and chemicals you need to use and store safely. Bryan Kuhn, PharmD, a pharmacist and poison education specialist at Banner - University Medical Center Phoenix, recommended following these tips to protect children, dogs and cats from contacting dangerous toxins.

Aim for inconvenience. If something is convenient for you to see and grab, it’s probably tempting for kids. Dr. Kuhn said it’s easy to get complacent and keep items you use often close at hand—and that’s not usually the safest place. For example, parents often store products like pool supplies including shock, chlorine, and muriatic acid in easy-to-access spots because they need to use them frequently. “You have to mindfully think of your child’s ability to reach—look at it from their perspective,” he said.

Don’t trust packaging to keep your child safe. “There’s no such thing as a child-proof container,” Dr. Kuhn said. “Kids get into whatever they want to. They’re crafty little things. Give them enough time and they will get into stuff.” Make sure dangerous products are inaccessible.

Keep chemicals in their original containers. You might want to transfer products into smaller containers when they start to run low. But it’s safer to keep them in their original packaging. Smaller containers can look more like drinks, especially with products that have the same color as juice or sports beverages. “Fabuloso (multi-purpose cleaner) and antifreeze look like Gatorade,” Dr. Kuhn said.

Keep products stored away, not in places where you live and play. Dr. Kuhn said people sometimes store automotive chemicals in the car, even in the cup holders. That sends a signal to a child that the product is something they can drink.

If you’re worried about risk, call poison control proactively. You don’t have to wait until a child ingests a harmful substance to call poison control. “We’re always happy to help you try to identify things. You can get us on the phone and walk us through what you see in your garage or shed, and we can recommend how to safely store and use it,” he said. “We’d rather spend 15 minutes preventing a poisoning than five minutes telling you to go to the hospital.” Call 800-222-1222 anytime.

Be prepared for an emergency. You don’t want to be searching for the phone number for poison control when you find your little one holding an open container. You can call 800-222-1222 from anywhere in the U.S. for help with poisoning or drug ingestion. Add this number to your cell phone and keep it in an easy-to-find place at home, like on your refrigerator.

Watch for these top springtime toxins

Dr. Kuhn said that in the springtime as people start to work in their yards and open their pools, the poison control center will get lots of questions about certain substances. It’s always a good idea to call if you think your child has ingested something. Here are some common spring culprits:

  • Pesticides, insecticides, and rodenticides can be highly toxic. “Anything where you’re trying to mitigate critters is where we get concerned,” Dr. Kuhn said. “These products can go from innocuous to life-threatening depending on the substances they contain and the amount that’s ingested.”
  • Gasoline, hydrocarbons, and solvents like paint thinner are also dangerous.
  • Automotive products range in risk. Antifreeze is very toxic, windshield washer fluid can contain dangerous methanol, and brake cleaner can taste sweet so kids can be tempted to drink it. Motor oil is less of a concern.
  • Fertilizers can cause nausea and vomiting, but generally don’t cause long-lasting health problems.
  • Paint, particularly water-based latex paint, tends to be less dangerous.

Look at your space from your child’s eyes

When you open your garage door, scan your garage for hazards before you start spending time working outdoors. “Assume your kid will get into anything you can see or reach—have that mentality,” Dr. Kuhn said.

If you think your child may have ingested something dangerous, call 800-222-1222 anytime, day or night. With this number you’ll be connected to the Banner Poison & Drug Information Center in Phoenix or the closest poison control center.

Check out these resources for more ways to keep your kids safe around the house:

Emergency Poison Prevention Safety Parenting Children's Health