Calls related to people inhaling a chemical that is six times more toxic than household bleach have been flooding into the IWK Regional Poison Centre in Halifax, N.S.
Pool chemicals, specifically those with chlorine, have led to many people accidentally inhaling toxic gas leaving them gasping for air.
“Chlorine gas is an intermediate soluble gas. So, immediately you can have some difficulty breathing and you can have some delayed effects,” said Laurie Mosher, clinical leader at the IWK Regional Poison Centre.
“We have had circumstances where we’ve had to send callers to the hospital by ambulance.”
Mosher said chlorine concentrated products like ‘pool pucks’ are highly toxic when not mixed or used properly.
According to Mosher, there has been a significant increase in calls to the poison centre for chlorine chemical exposure this June, compared with last year.
In June 2019, there were six calls made to the centre relating to this specific chemical exposure. This June, there have already been 17, with a few days in the month left to go.
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Mosher said often people become dangerously exposed to concentrated levels of chlorine when they open containers too close to their face.
“When they are heated up and you open them close to your face, you get a blast of chlorine gas. Which is six times more toxic than bleach and it overcomes you, and you get very significant symptoms. Difficulty breathing, coughing, wheezing,” Mosher said.
She said the presumption by poison control as to why the numbers have more than doubled is that people may be purchasing backyard pools or hot tubs at a higher rate than normal because of COVID-19.
Robin Knight, a Dartmouth-based hot tub and all-weather pool retailer, said there was a significant spike in sales when people were first locked down over March and April.
“We’ve noticed, probably, about a 50 per cent increase in sales this year.”
“Once people realized they couldn’t travel and they were going to be home, it seemed like people looked to their backyards for something to do and I think hot tubs and pools were sort of the first thing that came to mind,” Knight said.
Knight said he suspects the increase in calls is from people not thoroughly reading all the instructions that come with the chemicals before using them.
“There might be just a lot of people that are first-time hot tubbers or pool owners and may not have the experience of handling these products. So, you could see maybe a spike there, just from people with inexperience,” he said.
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Mosher said her hope is that people won’t take any chances when treating their backyard pools, or hot tubs, and that they do their homework ahead of using them.
“Put the chemicals in the pool when it’s cool out, don’t store them in your shed next to fertilizers with nitrogen and other ingredients. There’s a lot to think about,” she said.
Mosher suggested the federal government website called CANUTEC is a helpful resource for information regarding safe pool chemical handling and information.
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