By Amy Frank

FOR OUR CHILDREN, FOR OUR PLANETProtecting Your Family from Environmental Hazards

  |  Health Advice & Tips  

While the good ol’ summertime may bring to mind sunshine, lemonade and running through the sprinkler, the season is also one of environmental hazards to children. These include pesticides, household cleaners and certain plants. While these items are dangerous all year long, statistically, incidences of accidental poisoning tend to rise in the summer months when the newly warm days invite lawn work, gardening or a thorough house cleaning. Dr. Jonathan Weinstein, of the Hudson Valley Poison Education Center in Sleepy Hollow, suggests that parents try to see things from their children’s point of view. “If something looks pretty, it might be interesting enough for them to try to eat,” he says. Berries and flowers are especially attractive to children, with both the yew and the azalea common and toxic, Dr. Weinstein cautions. “Kids tend to eat whatever their parents have in the house,” he continues. Dr. Weinstein recommends knowing the toxicity of both house and ornamental plants at the time of purchase, information that can easily be had from a reputable nursery or florist. He also urges storing medications, household chemicals and pesticides out of sight and reach of children, preferably in a childproofed cabinet. Avoiding the acute instances are only part of the picture; appropriate dumping of household waste products is equally important. Paint, motor oil, tires, batteries (both auto and household), solvents and pool chemicals all carry dangers in both their intended uses and their improper use or disposal. Additionally, incorrect disposal of certain common substances creates secondary risks to the environment. While lead paint and mercury are notable offenders, other chemicals find their way into the public water supply through careless disposal. The Westchester Department of Environmental Facilities, euphemistically known as the ‘Recycling Department’, conducts annual household chemical clean-up days and can advise residents on disposal of specific items. Paint, for example, is not accepted at collection sites but should be discarded in regular trash pick-up after it has been properly prepared; it should be solidified and air-dried using a commercially available paint hardener or kitty litter. Tire collection is part of a year-round mosquito abatement program, and like motor oil, must be accepted for disposal at any service station, although a nominal fee may be charged. This year, special emphasis is being placed on mercury. Old switches, thermometers and thermostats should be brought to a collection center and never placed in the garbage; loose mercury from such a broken item should never be washed down the bathroom or kitchen sink. While Westchester collection centers will accept lead paint chips, Marianne Gallagher, of the Department of Environmental Facilities, does not recommend homeowners take on this task without at least the advice of a professional. As the saying goes, the best defense is a good offense. As more parents and consumers in general realize the inherent risks in even carefully used and discarded chemicals, many are turning to less toxic options that are biodegradable, or at least environmentally kinder. Environmentally conscious grocery stores, such as Mrs. Green’s and Trader Joe’s, as well as conventional markets carry a variety of non-toxic cleaning supplies and organic produce farmed without toxic chemicals. Many traditional hardware stores stock pesticides derived from the chrysanthemum, using natural pyrethrins to discourage infestations of moths, roaches, ants and wasps, and other pests. These products are considerably less toxic than other over-the-counter products and can be used in pantries and closets when manufacturer’s instructions are followed. The Cornell Cooperative Extension Diagnostic Program runs an Integrated Pest Management program that will identify garden and household pests and suggest holistic approaches to dealing with them. In the event these safeguards fail, the first phone call should be to the Poison Control Center, staffed 24 hours a day, seven days per week, by registered nurses with special training in toxicology. Parents should also keep syrup of ipecac on hand, noting its expiration date and restocking with a fresh bottle when necessary. The telephone number for the local Poison Control Center (1-800-222-1222) should be posted by the telephone and is as important as 911.

Resources —Westchester County is served by the Long Island Regional Poison Control Center at Winthrop University Hospital, emergency number (800) 222-1222 or (800) 336-6997. —The Hudson Valley Poison Education Center at Phelps Memorial Hospital in Sleepy Hollow has programs on hazards from lead to poisoning to bioterrorism, and can be reached by calling (914) 366-3030. —This month, there will be Household Chemical Clean-Up Days at Westchester Community College in Valhalla: Friday, June 6 from 1-3pm and Saturday, June 7 from 9am-3pm. For more information about acceptable items for disposal, and directions, call (914) 813-5425. —Westchester residents interested in household chemical clean-up days can call (914) 813-5416; or the Household Chemical Information Line at (914) 813-5425. — The Cornell Cooperative Extension Integrated Pest Management program can be reached at (800) 635-8356.