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Safety Tips

Practice safety with vehicle chemicals

February 1, 2009

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Winterizing your vehicle is an important step toward reducing the risk of breakdowns and system failure. Older cars in particular can benefit from such attention in colder climates.

Although winterizing your car or truck is an important step to ensure your vehicle’s safety, it is equally important that you are aware of the potential health risks posed by the chemicals used for winterization. Many commonly used chemicals can be extremely dangerous if used, handled or stored improperly.

The Chicago-based Illinois Poison Center stresses the importance of proper use and disposal of chemicals. All chemicals should be kept in their original containers, sealed tightly and out of the reach of children. IPC reports an increase in calls regarding these dangerous chemicals during the winter months:

Radiator antifreeze: This contains ethylene glycol, which can cause kidney failure if ingested. It is especially important to keep this product away from small children and animals, as the chemical has a sweet taste that can be appealing. Antifreeze can also be an irritant to the skin and eyes. The use of safety goggles and adequate ventilation is recommended. When disposing of empty containers, rinse with water before throwing out.

Windshield wiper fluid: This product contains methanol, which can cause blindness, coma and even death if ingested. Excessive inhalation can lead to lung disease. Always be sure to replace the cap tightly immediately after use and follow safe disposal procedures. The use of gloves is recommended when filling your car with wiper fluid or otherwise handling methanol products.

Carbon monoxide: Excessive exposure to carbon monoxide can cause headaches, nausea, dizziness, unconsciousness and death. This can become a problem if a vehicle’s exhaust system has a leak. Always be sure to warm up your car in open air to prevent the buildup of carbon monoxide. Warming a car in the garage, even with an open door, is not safe.

If you suspect poisoning, seek help immediately by calling your local poison control center. Do not wait for symptoms to appear. Call (800) 222-1222 to be connected to a poison control center.

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