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March observance emphasizes poison prevention

JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-RANDOLPH, Texas -- An estimated 2.2 million calls were made to poison centers across the nation in 2015, according to the National Poison Center, proof that exposure to dangerous or potentially dangerous substances is a common occurrence in the United States.

During National Poison Prevention Awareness Month in March, health and safety officials across the country – including those at Joint Base San Antonio – are emphasizing the need for people to handle toxic substances with caution and to ensure young children do not have access to these substances, especially everyday items.

More than 90 percent of exposures reported to poison centers occur in the home, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and most involve young children.

“The most common calls nationally involve children under the age of 6 years old,” said Staff Sgt. Thomas Powell, 502nd Air Base Wing occupational health and safety specialist. “Those accounted for 47 percent of calls in 2015.”

Personal care products rank at the top for children’s exposure to dangerous substances, Powell said.

“These are items such as shampoo, hair spray and other hair care products, and cosmetics – things that people leave on the counter,” he said. “Children may accidentally spray some of these products in their eyes or taste them.”

Household cleaners and other chemicals also pose a hazard, Powell said.

“People should lock up household chemicals or use child-proof latches on doors and drawers,” he said. “If chemicals are placed in a bottle, they should be labeled. That’s prevention by identification. People have to know what they’re working with.”

Pain relievers, prescription drugs and sedatives are other substances that are often too accessible to children and may endanger the adults who are using them.

“Medications accounted for 57 percent of calls made to poison centers in 2015,” Powell said. “Some of it is abuse. It could also be lack of knowledge or instances of accidental overdose.”

People should be knowledgeable about the medications they are taking, especially if they have multiple prescriptions, Powell said.

“People should talk to their doctors and see if it’s all right to mix different medications,” he said. “It’s also important for adults not to refer to their pills as candy around their children. They shouldn’t put that idea in their kids’ heads.”

Most exposures reported to poison centers occur in the home, but precautions must also be taken in the workplace, especially where hazardous materials are common. At JBSA, communication and education are emphasized.

Maj. Crystal Brown, 559th Aerospace Medicine Squadron Bioenvironmental Engineering Flight commander, said the flight communicates risk regarding workplace hazards, including hazardous materials, to the working population of JBSA-Lackland and JBSA-Medina Annex.

“Our sister flight at JBSA-Randolph performs these same duties at their location, and Army Preventative Medicine communicates with personnel at JBSA-Fort Sam Houston and JBSA-Camp Bullis,” she said. “Our communication starts with a shop visit to identify the hazards present. We then work with the shop to educate workers and reduce or eliminate their exposures.”

Brown also offered advice regarding exposure to hazardous materials.

“Hazardous materials can be as common as the bleach under your sink or rarer like the paint for a jet,” she said. “The key is to recognize what is in your area and to learn the basics of safe use, personal protection and emergency actions if needed.”

The CDC advises people to keep the poison help number, 1-800-222-1222, near their home telephones or stored on their cell phones. The line is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.