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Toxic Items in the Classroom

As kids return to the classroom this fall, the Pittsburgh Poison Center would like to remind parents that with each new school year comes potential for exposure to any number of poisons. Items that may seem harmless, may actually contain harmful substances that, if ingested, may make children sick. Items such as caffeinated beverages, cleaning products, common classroom mainstays, and even certain medications can pose a threat to children if they are not used properly. Overall, our schools are very safe; however, several common exposures can be prevented.

Energy Drinks

Energy drinks have become more and more popular. Unfortunately, most people are not aware of the large amount of caffeine and other stimulants that may be present in these drinks. Many of these drinks, while smaller in volume, contain more caffeine than a large cup of coffee. Adolescents have reported symptoms including:

  • Tremor
  • Racing heart
  • Sweating
  • Vomiting

Large amounts of caffeine can cause seizures and abnormal heart rhythms.

Hand Sanitizer

Another potentially toxic fluid that is widely available in the classroom is hand sanitizer. Handwashing is an extremely important preventive measure for infection control in schools; however, some kids will drink these alcohol-containing fluids leading to intoxication, vomiting, and even coma. If you send your children to school with containers of sanitizer, we recommend small volume containers to limit potential toxicity associated with ingestion.

Medications

Another common concern called to the Poison Center is exposure to “lead” pencils. As pencils are primarily graphite, there is no concern for lead poisoning from pencils. As our kids get older, particularly in middle and high schools, experimentation can lead to toxic exposures. It is not uncommon for adolescents to “sample” classmates’ medications or prescriptions procured from home with potentially dangerous results. This time of year, as kids are catching back up with friends in school and at social events, is a perfect time to reinforce the risks of taking someone else’s medications. At the same time, we remind parents to lock and monitor prescription medications in the home.

Office Supplies

Finally, common sprayed office supplies such as keyboard duster as well as glues and rubber cement can be accidentally inhaled or intentionally abused. Abuse of these inhalants can lead to intoxication as well as abnormal heart rhythms.

Whenever there is any question of poison exposure, please call the Pittsburgh Poison Center at 1(800) 222-1222, at any time of day or night.