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Preventing Accidental Poisoning

by Audrey T. Hingley

In the living room or family room, know your plants' names and their poison potential. Although most houseplants are not poisonous, some are. To be on the safe side, keep houseplants out of the reach of young children. Although much has been made of problems with poinsettias (blamed for a death as early as 1919), recent studies indicate it is not as highly toxic as was once believed. Although ingesting it may cause some stomach irritation and burning in the mouth, it's unlikely to be fatal.

"Plants are mostly a problem for children, since it's a natural response for children to taste things. Few adults eat houseplants," Rodgers points out. "Plants have a high capacity for making you sick, but they are usually low-risk for producing life-threatening symptoms." After poison-proofing your home, prepare for emergencies. Post the numbers of your regional poison control center (which can be found on the inside cover of the Yellow Pages or in the white pages of your phone directory) and your doctor by the phone. Keep syrup of ipecac on hand--safely locked away, of course. Never administer any antidote without first checking with your doctor or poison control center.


Lead Poisoning

Although lead levels in food and drink are the lowest in history, concern remains about lead leaching into food from ceramic ware. Improperly fired or formulated glazes on ceramic ware can allow lead to leach into food or drink.

Long recognized as a toxic substance, adverse health effects can result from exposure to lead over months or years. After a California family suffered acute lead poisoning in 1969 from drinking orange juice stored in a pitcher bought in Mexico, FDA established "action levels" for lead in ceramic ware used to serve food. Over the years, these original action levels have been revised as research has shown that exposure to even small amounts of lead can be hazardous. The last revision for ceramic foodware was in 1991. On Jan. 12, 1994, FDA published a regulation for decorative ceramic ware not intended for food use, requiring a permanently affixed label on high-lead-leaching products.

"Most lead toxicity comes from multiple exposure and is a slow accumulation over time," says Robert Mueller, a nurse and poison information specialist at the Virginia Poison Center, headquartered at The Medical College of Virginia Hospitals in Richmond. "Refusing to eat, vomiting, convulsions, and malaise can all be symptoms of lead poisoning." Because lead poisoning occurs over time, such symptoms may not show up right away. A blood test is the surest way to determine that your child has not been exposed to significant amounts of lead.

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