Americans are spending much more time cleaning and using a lot more cleaning products than they did before the pandemic—and some of them are unaware that mixing bleach with ammonia or vinegar can create chlorine gas. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says calls to poison hotlines about dangerous exposure to cleaning chemicals and disinfectants are up 20% this year, with 45,550 from January to March, AFP reports. The CDC says calls "increased sharply at the beginning of March 2020 for exposures to both cleaners and disinfectants," with children under 5 more affected than any other group. The CDC says since the statistics only include calls to hotlines, the true number of people poisoned or injured by cleaning products in recent weeks is probably much higher.
The CDC's report described two cases, Bloomberg notes. One involved a pre-school age girl who drank an unknown amount of ethanol-based hand sanitizer and vomited on the way to the hospital. She had a blood-alcohol level more than three times the legal driving limit and was hospitalized for two days. In the other case, a woman had difficulty breathing after she decided to clean all her groceries and filled her sink with a mixture of 10% bleach solution, vinegar, and hot water to soak her produce in. "People are home and they are frightened and they want to get their home and their food as clean as possible," Dr. Diane Calello, the medical director of the New Jersey Poison Information and Education System, tells the New York Times. "Common sense can take a back seat." The CDC's guide to safely cleaning and disinfecting your home can be found here. (Read more cleaning products stories.)