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Surge in children poisoned after drinking reed diffuser liquid as parents urged to keep them out of reach

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Retailers and consumers are being urged to check if safety information is displayed on reed diffusers – which give off room fragrance – following a big rise in reports of children accidentally drinking liquid in the products.

The Health and Safety Authority (HSA) said today the number of calls to the National Poisons Centre in Beaumont Hospital about reed diffusers soared by nearly 300pc between 2015 and 2021 – from 34 to 115.

In 2020 the centre located in Beaumont Hospital received reports on 78 children who drank reed diffuser liquid. Most of these children were under 3.

Reed diffusers are commonly used to add fragrance to a room. The reeds are inserted into a glass bottle or glass jar of scented diffuser oil, the reeds soak up the scent and emit a fragrant aroma over time. Refills are sold to replace or top up the liquid in the diffuser.

The HSE said it undertook a targeted inspection campaign on foot of the rise in notifications.

It checked compliance on 41 different brands of reed diffusers available in Ireland. The findings of this inspection campaign highlighted that while many of the products sold did display the relevant safety information on the outer packaging, they failed to include safety information on the inner bottle as required.

Since the outer packaging is normally discarded after purchase, the lack of a hazard label on the diffuser bottle itself could result in a delay in the appropriate medical treatment of a child who is accidentally exposed to the contents.

The composition of these products can vary so when the poisons centre receives a call from a caregiver it's important that the composition can be identified correctly, to ensure patients receive the right care in the right place.

The HSA highlights to consumers the importance of reading the label before purchasing household products - since many household products contain chemicals which can have harmful effects following accidental exposure or when the safety information is not followed. Some household products may be harmful if swallowed, result in skin reactions or may result in long-term skin sensitisation to the chemical contents.

Yvonne Mullooly, Assistant Chief Executive, Chemicals & Industrial Product, HSA stated: “On concluding the inspection campaign we continue to review the current issues around hazardous chemicals contained in reed diffusers for sale on the Irish market and any lack of compliance with packaging and labelling requirements.

“We would urge retailers in the first instance to ensure the products they’re selling contain the relevant safety information in line with chemicals legislation. We also encourage consumers to educate themselves on buying products that are safe. The Authority has guidance for both retailers and consumers available on the HSA website along with a podcast that provides consumers with advice when buying products containing chemicals online. I would urge people to engage and familiarise themselves with our available guidance.”

Patricia Casey, Manager, National Poison Information Centre- Beaumont Hospital said: “Accidental exposure to chemicals can be very dangerous for small children and we work in close collaboration with the Health and Safety Authority alerting them to relevant incidents. If the liquid from a reed diffuser comes into contact with the eyes it can cause pain or if swallowed, it can result in vomiting, cough or drowsiness. It can also cause a rash if it comes into contact with the skin.

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"Our advice is for parents, grandparents and childminders to keep reed diffusers out of reach and to read the safety information on the label. In case of accidental exposure, if the liquid is swallowed rinse as much of the liquid as possible from the mouth with water and do not to induce vomiting. If it comes into contact with the skin, wash thoroughly. If it gets into the eyes, rinse carefully with water for 10-15 minutes. Then contact the National Poison Information Centre (01 - 809 2166) to seek advice on whether medical attention is needed.”


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