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Top 5 Winter Toxins

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A drop in temperature means a spike in exposures to winter toxins. There are all kinds of chemicals commonly used to help manage the cold and ice. Remember to store them up and out of sight of children and keep them in their original containers. If your child or someone you know drank antifreeze, ingested ice melt, or got into ANY of these products, call the Poison Help line right away at 1-800-222-1222.

Here are the top 5 winter toxins that may be found around your home this time of year:


Spraying deicer on a frozen window makes scraping the ice much easier and your car needs antifreeze to keep running in the winter, but what would happen if someone accidentally drank antifreeze or deicer? These common automotive products contain substances called toxic alcohols, including ethylene glycol and methanol. They prevent liquid from freezing in our engine or melt ice that has been frozen to our windshields.

These chemicals are a much different version of the alcohol that we find in beverages. If swallowed, they are broken down by the body into more toxic substances that cause damage to the kidneys, brain, and even the eyes (depending on the formulation). Antifreeze poisoning symptoms (from ethylene glycol) start with drowsiness, upset stomach, and symptoms of drunkenness. Deicer usually contains methanol and causes similar initial symptoms along with blurred vision. Symptoms can progress to very severe effects.

CAUTION! Just a swallow of the concentrated product can be toxic in children! You might wonder, how could an accidental antifreeze ingestion happen? Antifreeze is a brightly colored liquid that looks just like a beverage to young children. Always practice safe storage and use of these products.


Ice melt products can be inadvertently brought into the home from the bottom of shoes. Of course, a toddler will not only find it, but will put it right into their mouths. These can include the regular rock salt (sodium chloride) or “premium” ice melts that contain a mixture of various salts, such as potassium chloride, calcium chloride, and magnesium chloride. Mixtures actually reduce the risk of poisoning since they offer a lower dose of any one particular salt, compared to every pellet being the same thing. Keep the bags and buckets of any ice melt product out of sight and reach of children because their salt content can be a problem if swallowed in large enough amounts. If someone ingested ice melt, the poison center is here to help!


Lock deicers are small aerosol containers specifically designed for frozen automobile door locks. They usually contain isopropyl alcohol, the same ingredient in rubbing alcohol. This is upsetting to the stomach and may cause vomiting. A single spray in the mouth is not expected to cause more than a bad taste and possible upset stomach, but in larger amounts, it can cause more serious symptoms.


Water proofing spray helps keep moisture out during the cold, wet days of winter. Many people spray it on boots to keep their feet dry while trudging through the snow. These products can contain fluorocarbon polymers which may cause irritation or injury to the lungs if inhaled. Always spray outside or in a well ventilated area and avoid spraying in windy conditions.


Hand warmers are usually provided in a small convenient pack for gloves or pockets to keep hands toasty while outside in the cold. Popular hand warmers, such as HotHands®, are made of iron powder, water, salt, activated charcoal, and vermiculite. These ingredients react together when exposed to air to cause the warming sensation. A common question is, what happens when they accidentally break open or are chewed on by a curious child? Due to the iron content, there is a potential for toxicity although this is not expected from the usual small exposure to the product. Symptoms of iron toxicity may include persistent vomiting, abdominal pain, and blood in the vomit.

If ANY of the above products are ingested, call the Poison Help line at 1-800-222-1222, even if it was just a small amount. Specially trained nurses and pharmacists are available 24/7/365. The service is free and confidential.

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