Warm weather safety warning: lamp oil and lighter fluid ingestions dangerous to young children

By Wallace Ravven

As the warmer months arrive, oil-filled lamps and torches begin to light up patios and backyards, and people use lighter fluids for charcoal barbecues. Consumers often fail to ensure that oil and lighter fluid containers are properly sealed and out of children’s reach. Although the Consumer Product Safety Commission mandates that most products of this nature require child-resistant packaging, use of these products can still pose a danger.

The California Poison Control System (CPCS) warns: “A common source of exposure occurs when lamp oil or lighter fluid is placed in a drinking cup or other container in order to transfer it to the lamp, torch or barbecue. If someone mistakenly drinks from the cup, the person risks inhaling the lamp oil or lighter fluid. Inhalation into the lungs can cause potentially life-threatening pneumonia, especially in young children.”

Each year, the CPCS receives an average of 400 calls regarding the ingestion of lamp oil and lighter fluid. The incidence of these ingestions rises sharply in the beginning of spring and trails off dramatically as fall approaches. According to CPCS, the majority of these cases involve children under the age of 5. Recently, CPCS has been involved in the management of multiple cases involving small children who aspirated lamp oil into their lungs and required hospitalization. Representatives of CPCS emphasize that consumers should take proper precautions when using lamp oil or lighter fluid to avoid accidental ingestions. A few safety precautions:

* Never store lamp oil or lighter fluid in anything other than their original child-resistant packaging.

* Never transfer lamp oil or lighter fluid in a container normally used for eating or drinking.

* Insure that the product lid is securely tightened after use. Remember that child resistant caps are NOT child-proof caps. Child-resistant caps only slow children down but do not prevent poisonings.

* Store lamp oil and lighter fluid safely out of the reach of children immediately after use.

In case of any accidental ingestion, CPCS is available for advice and information 24 hours a day, 7 days a week by calling 1-800-222-1222.

The CPCS is managed by the School of Pharmacy, Department of Clinical Pharmacy at the University of California, San Francisco. CPCS has four Divisions, located at UC Davis Medical Center in Sacramento, San Francisco General Hospital Medical Center in San Francisco, Children’s Hospital Central California in Fresno/Madera and the UC San Diego Medical Center in San Diego. The CPCS is responsible to the California Emergency Medical Services Authority. Advice and information from the CPCS is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, via a national toll-free number (1-800-222-1222). Additional information is available on the Internet at Cal Poison.