By Aileen Shen 

This week, March 18 through 24, is national Poison Prevention Week. Here at the Boston Public Health Commission, we have an Injury Prevention Program that works to reduce the risk of injury through education, technology, and legislation. This week, we’re focused on poisons that might be found around the house, and that can make people sick if ingested.

Please seek urgent medical help if you swallow, inhale, or get pesticides on your skin by calling 9-1-1 or the Poison Control Center’s National Hotline at 1-800-222-1222.

Learning as much as you can about these substances can help keep everyone safe.

Pesticides are chemicals that are used to kill mice, rats, weeds, cockroaches, bedbugs, and other insects.

Pesticides can also be harmful to humans and pets, and exposure to pesticides may lead to infertility in women and birth defects in babies.  Symptoms of pesticide poisoning include headaches,, nausea, vomiting, skin rashes, and muscle weakness.  Pesticides can get into your body in multiple ways, including:

  • Breathing them through the air.
  • Skin contact.
  • Eating pesticide dust particles that have settled on food.
  • Drinking or eating them from unlabeled containers.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, more than 70,000 calls are made to poison centers each year about common household pesticides and more than half of these involve children under six years old.

Because of the possible risks, many people choose not to keep such chemicals in their homes. But does that mean you have to live with pests like cockroaches, mice, and rats? No. Fortunately, there are alternatives.

Some examples include:

  • Shutting their food supply (e.g. use covered trash cans and take out garbage daily)
  • Cutting down their source of water (e.g. use caulk to seal leaks around sinks and showers)
  • Sealing them out (e.g. repair window screens)
  • Erasing their road maps (e.g. erase their path marks by washing their routes with soap and water).

More details on reducing and eliminating pests in the home can be found on the Quick Guide on Integrated Pest Management, which is available in English and Spanish.

If you must use pesticides, keep products in their original container, out of the reach of children, and in a locked cabinet to prevent poisoning.  Also, use only as directed and only purchase legal pesticides.  

Please seek urgent medical help if you swallow, inhale, or get pesticides on your skin by calling 9-1-1 or the Poison Control Center’s National Hotline at 1-800-222-1222.

For more information and resources on pest control and management please go to the Healthy Pest Free Housing Initiative.

Aileen Shen is director of the Injury Prevention Program in the Healthy Homes and Community Supports Division. Now that the weather’s nice, she loves being outside and riding her bike… always wearing a helmet, of course!

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