Don’t blame the bleach - Careless adults the main cause of chemical poisoning in children
One of the island's leading bleach manufacturers is blaming careless adults and lax regulations for the many instances where children ingest the product across the island.
With 80 per cent of poison cases seen at the Bustamante Hospital for Children being children who have ingested bleach, Alfred Thomas, managing director of Pioneer Manufacturing Distribution Company, pointed to the dangerous practice of adults buying the product in regular PET (polyethylene terephthalate) bottles in which juices and drinks are sold.
"The mothers and the fathers who expose their children to bleach in these PET containers are putting them at risk," Thomas told The Sunday Gleaner.
"Don't blame the bleach, blame the persons who go and buy the bleach in a PET bottle, and those are the persons we want to get to stop putting their children at risk.
"A PET bottle is a common bottle that persons buy drinks in, and when the child sees the mother or daddy drinking from the bottle, when the bleach is put in that bottle and it is left carelessly, the child imitates mother or father and takes it and drinks, it and that is the danger," added Thomas.
He noted that worldwide bleach is properly packaged in a HDPE (high density polyethylene) bottle, which is sturdier than the PET bottle and opaque.
According to Thomas, his company, which produces the very popular 'Chloro-Do' bleach packaged to worldwide standards, is moving to make it even more difficult for children to open its containers.
"We are moving now to have our manufacturer produce the bleach with a safety cap on it. That way, if a person buys the bleach and takes it home, even if a child tries to drink from a bottle which has contents in it, that bottle will not be easily opened," said Thomas.
Recently, Sherika Whitelock-Ballinsingh, head of the Caribbean Poison Information Network Caribbean Poison Information Network, called on the authorities to put in greater regulations over the sale of household chemicals.
"The major issue is that the chemical retail industry has not been regularised. There is no standard for packaging, labelling and distribution of chemicals in Jamaica. Anyone going into a chemical shop can just take a container and they just buy their bleach," noted Whitelock-Ballinsingh in a concern shared by Thomas.
Thomas argued that in addition to avoiding labelling regulations, some retail outlets are diluting their products below the standards set by the Bureau of Standards Jamaica (BSJ).
"The average chlorine content of the bleach should be 3.5 per cent and that would give you a satisfactory cleaning of your clothes. In many cases, the bulk bleach does not reach up to 3.5 per cent," said Thomas, as he charged that the chlorine content in some retail bleach is as low as two per cent.
He noted that registered bleach producers, including his company, have their product subject to regular tests from the BSJ.
Wendell Richards, head of the Standards Compliance Department at the National Compliance and Regulatory Authority (NCRA), last week confirmed that all importers or manufacturers of bleach and other "high-risk" household chemicals should contact the BSJ for the appropriate sample testing.
OPERATING BELOW THE RADAR
But Richards noted that many of the producers of the bleach that is sold on the retail market operate below the radar, and the NCRA has to rely on information from the public to target them.
He was supported by Orine Henry, director of the NCRA, who noted that while the law gives them the power to inspect the domestic market, food processing establishments, and ports of entry, it restricts them from policing several areas, including fast-food establishments.
"With that limitation, we do not go to certain places ... so the man selling bleach in his backyard would not be part of our regular inspection," said Henry.
"But if it is we are told about it, we will go and take samples or go with the Ministry of Health and try to do something," added Henry, as she agreed that packaging of some chemicals is cause for great concern.