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April 2007 Issue

Bill Menrath is a senior research associate in the environmental health department.
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'Healthy Home' Can Help Prevent Childhood Poisonings

By Amanda Harper
Published April 2007

Environmental health experts say preventing the life-long health effects of childhood poisoning starts by creating an overall healthy home environment that promotes well-being and is free of potentially harmful substances.

"Research and public awareness campaigns have put lead at the forefront when people think of childhood poisoning," says Bill Menrath, a senior environmental health research associate at UC. "But creating a truly healthy house requires a holistic approach that addresses and eradicates the things that threaten the health and well-being of everyone living in the home."

Menrath believes in the seven easy-to-remember principles suggested by the National Center for Healthy Housing for preventing disease and creating a healthy living space.

These simple guidelines include:

  • Keep it dry
  • Keep it clean
  • Keep it pest-free
  • Keep it ventilated
  • Keep it safe
  • Avoid contaminants, and
  • Maintain the house

By practicing these principles, says Menrath, homeowners will naturally eliminate some of the most common hazards, pollutants and contaminants people are exposed to in the home.

But researchers caution that a combination of factorsincluding a natural curiosity to explore their environmentstill puts children at an increased risk for poisoning from household items. According to the Centers for Disease Control, 2.2 million cases of poisoning were reported in 2000, and more than 52 percent of them involved children under 6.

Environmental health experts offer the following tips for pre-venting common childhood poisonings:

  • Remove lead-based paint hazards: If your home was built before 1978, any chipping or peeling paint should be tested for lead content. Contrary to popular belief, most children are poisoned by ingesting lead dust, not paint chips.
  • Home lead-testing kits can be purchased from UC's environmental health department for about $19 by calling (513) 558-0523.
  • Beware of lead in foreign toys: Avoid buying your kids the cheap trinket toys and jewelry commonly sold in vending machines. Last year, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission recalled 150 million pieces of foreign-made trinket jewelry because they contained unsafe levels of lead that could easily be passed to children if the items were chewed or swallowed.
  • Keep medications out of reach: Iron-containing medicines and vitamin supplements can cause irreversible liver damage in small children. The adage "out of sight, out of mind" applies here, so avoid taking medication in front of children (they may want to imitate your behavior) and store it in a safe place.
  • Dispose of hazardous liquids: People have the bad habit of keeping rarely used items like kerosene and paint thinners around. These substances can be highly toxic to both adults and children when accidentally ingested.

Hamilton County Environmental Services offers free household hazardous waste re-moval for its residents. For more information, call (513) 946-7700 or visit

For more information on poisoning risks, visit or call the National Poison Control Center at (800) 222-1222.

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