Independence Day is historically a busy time for the New Mexico Poison and Drug Information Center. Last year, the center fielded 65 calls on July 4, and 84 calls the next day, many related to food poisoning, lighter fluid, glow products, insecticides and sunscreens.
“Bright colors and pretty packaging can be very attractive to young children,” says Susan Smolinske, PharmD, director of the New Mexico Poison and Drug Information Center and professor in the UNM College of Pharmacy. “Oftentimes, children confuse glow sticks and fireworks with candy and other food or drink. Please carefully supervise children when using these products.”
Glow sticks contain chemicals that combine to produce phenol and peroxide, which cause an intense burning and stinging sensation when ingested, and sometimes vomiting, but don't actually cause burns to the tissue, according to the poison center. Phenol and peroxide are irritating to the mouth, eyes and nose, but those symptoms typically go away within a short period of time. Fireworks contain chemicals such as potassium nitrate, white phosphorus, barium chlorate and arsenic. Ingesting large amounts of these chemicals can lead to electrolyte imbalances and organ failure.
Most calls to the poison center during the Independence Day holiday are food related, according to Smolinske. Thoroughly cook all foods according to standard guidelines, and wash hands carefully before and after handling food, she says. Keep “cold” foods cold, and “hot” foods hot, before and after serving. Refrigerate leftover food right away. Keep alcohol out of the reach of children. As little as three ounces could be fatal to a child weighing 25 pounds or less.
Independence Day also coincides with peak rattlesnake activity, resulting in more bites during the holiday, likely because more people are outdoors during the times the snakes are active. Not all venomous snakes create a rattle warning sign, so vigilance is important, experts say, adding that it is a good time to think about vaccinating pets against rattlesnakes. Also, Smolinske urges New Mexicans to program the poison center’s phone number (800) 222-1222 into your phone and to download the Web Poison Control app, which provides information on potential poisonings.
If you think that someone has eaten or swallowed spoiled food, glow sticks or fireworks, call the New Mexico Poison Center at (800) 222-1222. Most incidents can be managed at home with the help of poison center experts. If you do need to go to an emergency room, they will work together with the emergency staff in providing treatment. The New Mexico Poison Center is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, including the Fourth of July.