The War Against Household Moths: Winning, but at what cost?

With the colder season finishing, many of us are returning winter woollies and blankets to the linen cupboard.
For many, there is an ongoing battle against the pesky moths that love to eat our expensive cashmere over summer. Mothballs are often the deterrent of choice, but mothballs are not only hazardous to our tiny winged enemies.

Mothballs are white or multi-coloured, marble-sized solids, which convert from a solid directly to a gas which is toxic to moths.
Mothballs contain naphthalene and/or paradichlorobenzene as the active ingredients. Naphthalene, made from crude oil, is used for its pest repellent and insecticide qualities. Paradichlorobenzene is produced as a fumigant insecticide.

  • Both chemicals are also hazardous to humans, when inhaled, ingested or if there is skin contact.
  • Signs of inhalant exposure include headaches, nausea, dizziness, vomiting, eye irritation, and respiratory irritation.
  • Exposure to the skin can result in a burning sensation. Children’s skin absorbs the chemicals easily.
  • Ingestion of mothballs can result in diarrhea, fever, abdominal pain and painful urination.
  • Naphthalene, when ingested, can cause haemolytic anaemia, and liver and kidney damage.
  • When broken down in the body, naphthalene can affect both the lungs and the eyes before being excreted.

The World Health Organisation has concluded that both paradichlorobenzene and naphthalene are probably carcinogenic, based on animal studies.

Children are most at risk of poisoning as mothballs look like lollies and are often accessible to small and curious hands. Globally every year, thousands of children require medical treatment for mothball poisoning, with some dying and others having to live with the side effects permanently.

This year make your own insect repellent sachets, with lavender, cedar chips, peppermint oil, cloves and rosemary to eliminate the moths and the hazards to you and your kids.

If you believe your child has mothball poisoning, call Poisons Information on 13 11 26.

Contributed by Louise Balston

Methylisothiazolinone – hard to pronounce and even harder on you

Methylisothiazolinone, or MI, is an industrial biocide found in paints, glues and cleaning products to stop the growth of bacteria– but have you ever stopped to consider this chemical might be found in more than16% of products you use at home every day?
Despite its origins, MI is one of the most commonly used cosmetic preservatives on the Australian market and families may be unknowingly using products containing MI every day. Common products, even those labelled as “gentle” and “sensitive”, are known to contain MI such as baby wipes, shampoo, dishwashing liquid and laundry detergent.

So why is it a problem?
MI is approved by the Therapeutic Goods Association to be used in commercial products if the concentration is less than 0.0015%. The small dose may seem harmless, but in 2013 MI was labelled as “contact allergen of the year” with reports of allergic reactions tripling in just two short years. MI allergies are common and even in small amounts exposure may lead to significant allergic reactions, skin sensitisation and in extreme cases may lead to chemical burns and lung toxicity in high doses.


“So what can I do to help my family”, I hear you say?
If someone in your family has an unexplained rash, a simple check of your household products can help identify if any items they use contain MI. If you find an MI product they may have come in contact with, stop using it immediately and see if you can replace it with a MI-free alternative. Let your family know about the risks of MI and remember when shopping to check the product ingredients to make sure you’re choosing an MI-free option for your family. If skin irritations still persist, please contact your GP for advice.

Contributed by Courtney Talbot

The hidden dangers of spring cleaning

The temperature in Brisbane is starting to rise, signalling that parties, barbeques, and Spring is just around the corner. It’s easy to get into the ‘Spring clean’ mood by renovating or freshening up the exterior of your home. Most people are aware of the use of asbestos in post-war homes, but not everyone realises that asbestos can be still be found in homes built or renovated before 1990.

Using power tools like electric sanders or high-pressure cleaners on asbestos containing materials can be dangerous and is prohibited in Queensland. The force from these tools can break apart the material, sending asbestos fibres into the air and surrounding environment. These microscopic fibres are invisible to the naked eye, and can become lodged in the lungs once inhaled (Queensland Government, 2016). Asbestosis, mesothelioma, and lung cancer are all potential health effects linked to exposure.

In the last six years, Workplace Health and Safety Queensland responded to 33 events involving high pressure cleaning of asbestos containing materials. Homeowners in Queensland can expect fines up to $10,000 and clean-up costs can reach $50,000 if neighbouring properties are contaminated. (Workplace Health and Safety Queensland, 2019)

If you can’t identify the material used, you can pay to have it professionally tested. If testing isn’t an option, it is best to assume that asbestos may be present.

Some simple safety measures are:
– Avoid disturbing any materials that may contain asbestos. Undamaged and undisturbed, asbestos containing materials are generally safe.
– Don’t use powered equipment on asbestos containing materials
– Apply a fungicide and sealant, and talk to your local roof restoration, paint or hardware store for advice on how to look after your home
– Consider having any asbestos containing materials professionally replaced

Remember, next time you are in the mood to freshen up your home, take the time to check for asbestos containing materials. If in doubt, assume asbestos is present and seek further advice. Call 13 QGOV (13 74 68) or consult www.asbestos.qld.gov.au for more advice, practical guidance, and resources.

Contributed by Matthew Hess

References:
Queensland Government. (2016). Asbestos: A guide for minor renovation. Retrieved from https://www.asbestos.qld.gov.au/sites/default/files/asbestos-home-renovators-trades-guide.pdf?v=1551837789
Workplace Health and Safety Queensland. (2019). High-pressure water blaster used on asbestos roof. Retrieved from https://www.worksafe.qld.gov.au/injury-prevention-safety/alerts/incident-alerts/2019/high-pressure-water-blaster-used-on-asbestos-roof

The dangerous effects and hazards of mobile phone batteries

While using your mobile phone may be a daily activity that is not given a second thought – how many of us have stopped to consider the hazards associated with the internal makeup of the phone itself – specifically the phone’s battery?

Many of us have heard of controversial power walls using lithium ion batteries spontaneously exploding – exposing households to risk of physical harm, however how many of us have stopped and thought about the lithium ion battery that is neatly contained within our cellular devices? While the batteries within our phones are typically small and compact in size – they still hold the potential to unleash a large amount of harmful energy. Lithium ion is useful due to its ability to store large amounts of energy and slowly release that energy for use – however lithium ion’s strength is also it’s weakness – that is, when lithium ion does not release its energy slowly – its risk of exploding or igniting increases – transforming your phone rather, into a missile or small fire. It is also important to note that the fumes released from a burning lithium battery may cause lung irritation if exposed.

Causes of battery malfunction may include:
1. Overheating;
2. Short circuiting the battery – i.e. by submerging the battery in water or dropping the battery;
3. Piercing the battery;
4. Poor battery quality – i.e. not using the OEM battery designated for the phone and rather a cheap imitation.

So, in order to mitigate the risk of your phone becoming a missile or fire before you phone a friend – be sure to replace or get your battery checked out if your phone is dropped or comes into contact with water. Ensure that your phone is not exposed to extreme heats and that the correct OEM battery is purchased when replacing an old battery.

By Celeste Dennis

Hand Sanitisers: Handy or Harmful?

Ever visited a public bathroom only to find there is no soap…argh?! Should you find an alternate bathroom with soap or rely on the trusty pocket hand sanitiser?

Hand sanitisers and handwashing remove viruses and bacteria from the hands. This is turn minimises your chances of becoming ill and prevents the spread of diseases. Hand sanitisers have been proven to work more effectively in killing germs on the hands than handwashing with soap (Tamimi, Carlino, Edmonds, & Gerba, 2014). Although, there are some disadvantages associated with their use.

Most hand sanitisers contain ethanol or isopropanol, a type of alcohol (between 60-95% in concentration). If ingested, this can lead to alcohol poisoning. Symptoms include slowing down of the heart rate and breathing, low blood sugar, coma and seizures. This could be potentially fatal in young children (Reckitt Benckiser, 2016).

Hand sanitisers are also highly flammable and can cause skin irritation. They are not as effective if the hands are soiled with dirt, grease and grime. Unfortunately, hand sanitisers are not a universal killer of germs. They do not protect against some germs, including norovirus (gastro virus), salmonella (bacteria in contaminated food) and MRSA (bacteria causing skin infections) (Archer, Wood, Tizzard, Jones, & Dargan, 2007).

Investigating hand sanitisers

Therefore, if soap is not available, the following guidelines are recommended for the safe use of the trusty pocket hand sanitiser:
• Use half a teaspoon and apply to all areas of the hand including between the fingers, back of the hands and fingertips
• Wait for the hand sanitiser to dry completely before eating
• Parent or carer supervision required for use with children and adults with confusion (e.g. dementia)
• Store securely and out of reach of children
• Do not use around an open flame or heat source (e.g. stove, hand dryer or hair dryer)
• Discontinue if skin irritation occurs
• Remove excess dirt by rinsing or wiping off before use

So, finding the alternate bathroom with soap is ultimately the best option. It will keep those nasty germs away so you can enjoy good health today!

Written by Elise Meier

Bibliography
Archer, J., Wood, D., Tizzard, Z., Jones, A., & Dargan, P. (2007). Alcohol hand rubs: Hygiene and hazard. British Medical Journal, 335(7630), 1154-1155. doi:10.1136/bmj.39274.583472.AE

Reckitt Benckiser. (2016). Safety data sheet: Dettol healthy touch moisturising hand sanitiser Retrieved from http://www.rb-msds.com.au/uploadedFiles/pdf/Dettol%20Healthy%20Touch%20Moisturizing%20Hand%20Sanitizer-v4.2-D0330132.pdf

Tamimi, A., Carlino, S., Edmonds, S., & Gerba, C. (2014). Impact of an Alcohol-Based Hand Sanitizer Intervention on the Spread of Viruses in Homes. The Official Journal of the International Society for Food and Environmental Virology, 6(2), 140-144. doi:10.1007/s12560-014-9141-9

Un-clogging your drain with a punch

Ever stood over your kitchen sink watching the water drain slowly?
The easiest and most common method of unclogging kitchen sinks is through chemical means. One common household drain cleaner used is Mr Muscle Drano Ultra Gel (liquid). Available for purchased at any supermarket or hardware chain and usually stored in the cupboard under the kitchen sink.

The ingredients of Mr Muscle includes; water, sodium hydroxide, lauryl dimethyl amine oxide, lauric acid and potassium hydroxide. These are all common cleaning agents that can be found in a variety of household cleaning products, detergents and personal care products. However, if used unsafely, this product can pack a severe punch!

Mr Muscle Drano Ultra gel is a yellow liquid foam, with a bleach odour that can cause severe skin burns and eyes damage if inhaled or absorbed by the skin. It is very important to read the safety directions on the label before use, use only as directed and use any personal protective equipment as recommended. When mixing or using Mr Muscle wear eye protection and protective gloves, avoid contact with skin and eyes and ensure there is adequate ventilation to avoid inhalation of mist or vapours.

Should one the above occur the following first aid measures are to be followed;
If Mr Muscle comes into contact with skin, immediately remove all contaminated clothing, rinse skin with water and wash clothing before use.
Should it come into contact with your eye, rinse cautiously with water for several minutes.
For further information on safe storage and handling refer to chemical Safety Data Sheet (SDS) online.

So, although Mr Muscle can pack a punch when it comes to un-clogging your kitchen sink, please use this product with caution to ensure that it is the grease and fat clogging your sink that is knocked out, not you!

Submitted by
Alexandra Gazis

Keeping Our Air Clean – Tips to Reduce Carbon Monoxide Exposure

What if I told you that there was a colourless and odourless gas, that we may be exposed to every day that can cause fatigue, dizziness, nausea, headaches, or worst-case scenario, death?

This gas is carbon monoxide (CO). It can be toxic at high levels and long-term exposure can have a negative impact on human health.

CO is formed when a carbon fuel does not combust or burn fully. There are natural sources such as volcanoes and fires, plus human made sources that we are all exposed to such as:

  • Vehicle emissions (contribute to most of the CO in the air)
  • Household appliances, such as gas heaters
  • Wood burners or fireplaces
  • Gas stoves
  • Water heaters
  • Clothes dryers

CO can be dangerous as it attaches itself to haemoglobin, and in doing so restricts the amount of oxygen in our blood. Several deaths have recently occurred in Australia from CO poisoning due to faulty gas heaters. This lead to increased awareness of the dangers of CO and education to the community on maintaining safe gas heating in the home.

What can we do as a community?

The Australian Government has strategies in place to reduce carbon monoxide, which is a growing concern as the population booms. There are several actions we can all take to reduce carbon monoxide in our air such as:

  • Choosing a fuel-efficient vehicle
  • Ensure your vehicle is regularly serviced
  • Smokey vehicle? – make sure you get it fixed!
  • Ride a bike, walk or take public transport where possible
  • Avoid using a wood heater at home, but if you do use small, dry and untreated logs
  • Ensure all household appliances are in good working order
  • Install a CO alarm on appliances

If we all pitch in as a community, we can reduce carbon monoxide emissions!

Contributed by Rebecca Webster

Rental Inspections, the hidden risk

So it’s been 6 months since your last rental inspection and you and your share house buddies had promised yourselves it would be different this time. But alas, like last time and the time before that, inspection day is tomorrow and it’s going to take an all nighter to clean up the joint!

The question isn’t what cleans environmentally friendly, but what cleans quickly and effectively. So you turn to the old faithful ‘Domestos’. What you know from your experience using Domestos is that the kitchen and shower areas that have a tinge of yellow and orange and an indescribable film will be shiny in no time and the tick of approval from the landlord means another 6 months without hassle.

What you may not know are risks associated with exposure to the bleach chemicals that make up this product.

Domestos is a readily available household cleaning product, that contains the chemicals sodium hypochlorite and sodium hydroxide, that may be harmful if it comes into contact with your skin or eyes or if you ingest or inhale it.

But your question is how do I still pass this inspection?

Well, the answer is simple, follow these few steps and not only will your house sparkle, the landlord will be fooled to thinking this was normal!

  • Ensure that you wear protection on your hands and other areas of skin that may be at risk of contact whilst you are cleaning. This reduces the risk of skin irritation.
  • Ensure the areas that you are working in are well ventilated, open windows or switch on fans to reduce risk of inhalation
  • Consider the use of eye protection to reduce the risk of the product having contact with you eyes, which can lead to redness or irritation.
  • Dilute the cleaning product as per the guidelines, this assists to reduce the risk if exposed
  • If skin/eye contact, ingestion or inhalation occur and you have concerns contact the Poisons Information Centre 131 126.

So the cleanings done, you have earned your share of the Uber eats – but please make sure you wash your hands with soap and running water to ensure you are not at risk of ingestion!

Better still, get that cleaning roster on the fridge and grab a collection of alternate products to eliminate the risk completely!

Written by Rachel Treeby

How safe is your Medicine Cabinet?

So many of us leave our Panadol on the kitchen bench, or our hay fever tablets on the sink in the bathroom. Or we have the cupboard in the kitchen or bathroom overflowing with medications of all descriptions, both in date and out of date. But have we ever stopped to think about who might be able to reach these medications and accidently take them. Every day in New South Wales, 27 children under the age of 5 are accidently exposed to medications. And over the course of a year, 250 children are hospitalised with accidental poisonings. Of these accidental poisonings, 75% of them occur in the family home (Bell et al).
Children are more likely to be poisoned as they are always exploring the world around them and they are less likely to be aware of the danger associated with medications and other poisons. Young children also tend to pick things and put them straight in their mouths.
So what can we do to prevent these accidents at home?
• It is vital that all medications are stored in cupboards 1.5m off the ground (or higher)
• Never take medications out of the original packaging and store them in different containers.
• Try and teach children that the medicine cabinet is only for the adults to touch.
• Out of date medications are also a poisoning risk. Regularly check the expiry date on all medications and dispose of old or unwanted medication in a responsible manner. Such as taking it to your local pharmacist.
• Never call medication lollies. This gives children the impression that they are something fun to be eaten. (Poisons Information Centre, 2018)
If poisoning is suspected and it is an emergency please dial 000 immediately. The poisons information number is 131126. It is important to remember to never induce vomiting if poisoning is suspected.
By taking a few simple precautions we can minimise the risk to children from accidental poisoning by medications in the home.

Contributed by Amanda Robinson

References:
Bell JC, Bentley JP, Downie C et al. (2018). Accidental pharmacological poisonings in young children: a population based study in three settings. Clinical Toxicology, 2018: 1-8
NSW Poisons Information Centre. www.poisonsinfo.nsw.gov.au

Multiplying the Mercury in compact fluorescent lights and your health

Compact fluorescent lights, this common household product, used everywhere to light up our homes, workplaces, shopping centres and supermarkets, contains mercury. The good news is that the mercury level in a unit of the compact fluorescent light (CFL), once broken, is considered to be low (Department of Environment and Energy) particularly when compared to the now outdated mercury thermometers. Short term exposure which is relevant to the common household user dealing with CFL does not constitute a significant risk (Department of Environment and Energy). But multiply the amount of CFL units you potentially deal with as part of your work and the likelihood of encountering a broken CFL unit; long term, there could be some health issues if exposed to mercury.

Why don’t you want mercury exposure?

Mercury exposure can lead to tremors, mood and memory changes, vision, breathing  and neuromuscular changes, and performance deficits (OSHA & NCBI). So simply put, it affects your brain and changes behaviours and bodily functions.

Actions you can take to reduce exposure are:

  • Have a non spreading clean up plan – don’t use brooms, use a specific vacuum cleaner to contain mercury so it does not become airborne.
  • Ask your employer for educational training on safe handling, cleaning and health effects
  • Isolate the workplace, where CFLs are handled and recycled in one contained area away from the rest of the workplace, toilets, break room and admin areas.
  • Check if your floor surface is not carpet as carpet retain dust
  • Check if there is enough ventilation to disperse the mercury vapour from the crushing machines in your recycling facility
  • Check if there is air monitoring in the workplace to ensure mercury particles are not readily airborne from your operations.
  • Wear your PPE, especially respiratory protection
  • Consider wearing disposable or reusable protective clothing so you don’t take your work wear home
  • Ask your employer for medical monitoring of your lungs and kidney, eyes, skin and mercury measurement in urine.

References

http://www.environment.gov.au/protection/waste-resource-recovery/mercury-containing-lamps

https://www.epa.gov/cfl/what-are-connections-between-mercury-and-cfls

https://www.safetyandhealthmagazine.com/articles/osha-issues-tips-on-protecting-workers-from-mercury-in-fluorescent-bulbs-2

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23860545

https://www.osha.gov/Publications/mercuryexposure_fluorescentbulbs_factsheet.pdf

Submitted by

Chris Lee