Sept 16, 2002: What are some common household products that have significant toxicity?

Thanks to the subscriber who asked the following question.

Most household products do not cause life-threatening toxicity.  Of course, dose is an important factor in toxicity and one could drink enough of a minimally toxic products (such as household bleach) to cause problems, but this is not the case with toddlers.
The first product that comes to mind is Old English Furniture Polish (or any product with mineral seal oil in it).  The viscosity of this product is such that any amount in the mouth will quickly spread to the lungs.  The main concern of this product is aspiration.  Presentation is usually that of coughing.  As with other petroleum distillates, clinical picture does not correlate with the CXR, which usually looks worse than does the patient.
The other product is Hydrofluoric Acid which is found in Brite Alum (used to clean air conditioner coils or polish chrome on a car).  This acid continues to burn until all the product is removed.  Calcium binds the fluoride ions and is used to treat skin burns.  Fingernails, eyes, and large body surface areas are more of a problem and will be discussed in the future.
Part II will follow.  ds 
There will be no question of the week for the next 2 weeks due to the annual toxicology meeting.  

As always, if there are any questions, call the MTPC.

I am interested in any questions that you would like answered in “Question of the Week.”  Please e-mail me with any suggestions at

Donna Seger, M.D.
Medical Director, Middle Tennessee Poison Center