Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Local News

February 9, 2011

Experts praise bill aimed at preventing anti-freeze poisoning

PRINCETON — Local health officials are lauding a bill requiring a bitter-tasting agent be added to anti-freeze, saying it could save the lives of children and pets.

Ethylene glycol, a toxic chemical in most coolants or anti-freeze products, is known for it’s sweet taste as well as causing the accidental poisoning of children and animals who have accidentally ingested the substance. The West Virginia Senate unanimously passed House Bill 349 Monday, which would require a bittering agent added to products containing ethylene glycol, and sent the bill to the House of Delegates for approval.

Dr. Asma Safder, MD, with the Princeton Pediatrics Clinic, said the bill could  possibly prevent accidental ingestion of coolants by small children, who often fall victim to poisoning.

“It might help because ethylene glycol has such a sweet taste and it’s a big problem in accidental poisonings,” Safder said. “It only takes a little bit to cause injury or death. I think this bill is a great idea. Anything that would curb poisoning would help.”

Safder said children are often exposed to poisons when left unattended and near easily accessible chemicals.

“Children often find it in the garage when they are left unattended,” she said. “Nothing beats supervision of the child and keeping dangerous chemicals out of their reach.”

Safder said symptoms of ethylene glycol poisoning include blurred vision, dizziness, trouble breathing, and tract bleeding. However, Safder said it is often too late once these symptoms manifest in children.

“We don’t have a whole lot of incidents in the U.S., but there are several thousand a year,” Safder said. “Symptoms often don’t appear for 12 to 24 hours and children who have ingested it often die within 24 hours. It can also lead to damage in the kidneys or brain as well as respiratory problems.”

According to Safder, parents should act immediately if they believe their child has ingested even a small dose.

“From home, they should call poison control with the name of the coolant,” Safder said. “Some coolants have a higher concentration of ethylene glycol than others, meaning it takes less time for them to poison a child. Parents shouldn’t make the child throw up but instead wait for instructions from poison control.”

Safder said if a parent believes their child has ingested more than a teaspoon of the substance, they should immediately call an ambulance.

“Anything more than a teaspoon is enough to kill a child,” Safder said. “I would call an ambulance immediately and get the child to the emergency room as quickly as possible.”

Pets are also frequent victims of anti-freeze poisoning.

Dr. Joe Blair, DVM, with Veterinary Associates in Bluefield, called the bill “a no brainer.”

“I am 100 percent in favor of this bill,” Blair said. “There is no reason not to support it. The sweet taste of the ethylene glycol is the reason why animals drink it. This bill will mean one less thing that will harm your pets.”

According to Blair, ethylene glycol poisoning can cause a slow, painful death in pets.

“Stray dogs and outside dogs are the most prone to this type of poisoning because they are more exposed to it,” Blair said. “They get thirsty outside and it tastes sweet, so they drink it. The ethylene glycol basically destroys their kidneys. It’s a slow painful death. We usually have to recommend euthanasia for the animal.”

Blair said most animals cannot be saved and owners usually have to pay hefty bills for animals that do survive.

“Most of the time, you can’t save the animal and often, vet bills cost in the thousands for treatment,” Blair said. “You have to do multiple blood tests to make sure the kidneys are working right, special tests to see if it’s ethylene glycol poisoning and the special antidotes costs a lot.”

In the past, anti-freeze’s sweet taste has also made it the focus of several high-profile poisoning cases nationwide. However, Trooper S.R. Moore with the West Virginia State Police Princeton detachment said most cases of anti-freeze ingestion and other poisoning they investigate are accidental.

“We mostly get cases of accidental ingestion,” Moore said. “Other than the occasional accidental poisoning, they don’t happen to often. I don’t think I’ve ever worked a poisoning case.”

Moore said troopers do investigate all poisoning cases to make sure no foul play is involved. He said the cases often involve children.

“In the case of a child ingesting it, we investigate to see if it was an accident or a neglect case,” Moore said. “Charges would depend on what we found when we got out there. Poisonings don’t happen too often. More than likely though, someone in a poisoning case would be charged with murder or attempted murder. We would send off fluids to the lab in Charleston to confirm if poisoning had happened are not.”

Senate Bill 349 requires a bittering or “aversive agent” rendering engine coolant or anti-freeze “unpalatable” to any coolant sold or manufactured in the state as of Jan. 1, 2012.

Additionally, any manufacturer, processor, distributor, recycler or seller of coolant with the bittering agent cannot be sued by parties experiencing injury, death, property damage, environmental damage or economic loss from said coolant.

The Consumer Specialty Products Association has backed similar bills in several states after federal legislation was unsuccessful. At least eight states in the U.S. have enacted legislation requiring bittering additives in products containing ethylene glycol.

It is estimate 2 to 3 cents per gallon would be added to the price of coolants if the legislation is passed.

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