Passover preparation poses health dangers

Chemical substances such as bleach and oven cleaners pose a risk to children and should be kept out of their reach.

Haredim buning hametz 311 (photo credit: REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun)
Haredim buning hametz 311
(photo credit: REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun)
More children suffer accidents from poisoning to drowning during the two weeks before Passover than during any other fortnight in the year.
The dangers are even greater during the week before the Festival of Freedom, when children are on school holiday and parents are involved in intensive cleaning preparations.
Beterem, the Israel Center for Child Health and Safety, and the National Poison Control Center in Haifa’s Rambam Medical Center warn parents to protect their children, especially during this period. Nearly half of all child exposure to toxic chemicals occurs before Passover in children younger than six years old.
Last year, there were 52 percent more poisonings in the general population (766 cases) and 39% more children (338 cases) compared to the previous year.
About 80% of chemical ingestion incidents during the week before Passover involved cleaning and home extermination materials. The most dangerous substances are bleach, detergents, extermination chemicals, oven cleaners, calcium strippers and acids. Do not leave them for even a moment within children’s reach, Beterem says. In addition, one must never mix different kinds of chemicals.
Although only hametz (leavened food) needs be removed from the home, families use Passover for a major cleaning project that can pose risks to children due to open packages and objects that are usually stored. Do not leave buckets with even small amounts of water on the floor, as a young child can drown in them.
Beterem director Orly Silbinger says that anything dangerous to children should be locked away or put in an unreachable place. After they are no longer needed, they must be returned to a safe storage place. Never put chemicals in food bottles, cups or other familiar containers. Medications must be kept in containers that young children cannot open. Adults must always read instructions and follow them before using products. Unused paint thinners, pesticides and cleaning products should be removed from the house.
The Poison Control Center can be reached 24 hours a day at (04) 854-1900 in the event of any suspicion of accidental poisoning.
Netanya’s Laniado Medical Center – located in a neighborhood with many haredi (ultra-Orthodox) children, reports on a significant increase in child burns before Passover, as well as falls and poisonings.
“Children are curious by nature, so one must take care of them and prevent them from accessing dangerous things,” said Dr. Ya’acov Schechter of the pediatrics department.
Even when one finishes using a chemical and it cannot be reached by a young child, the fumes can cause harm. Cleaning products with lower concentrations of active ingredients should be purchased if there are young children around. Any child who has been exposed to cleaning products should be rushed to a hospital emergency room, Schechter said, with the package brought along so doctors will know what antidote to give.
During cooking preparations, the risks of burns from boiling water and cooking foods are especially high. Keep all pot handles turned inward on the inner burners of the stove top to prevent children from reaching them. Don’t hold a young child in your arms when cooking, as a sudden movement can lead to an accident.
Food implements that are boiled in water for use during Passover must not remain in hot water when children are around, as the 100-degree temperature can cause second- and third-degree burns.
Prevent children from climbing dangerously on window frames by barring them.
The Health Ministry’s geriatric branch says that the needy elderly in the Jerusalem and Haifa areas who live at home and have no place to go during Passover and suffer from reduced physical and mental functioning are invited to stay free for a few days or weeks in geriatric nursing facilities. Contact (02) 531- 4811 in Jerusalem and (04) 863-3111 in Haifa for more information and to speak with social workers.
Meanwhile, for a list of kosher-for-Passover medications, go to the ministry’s special website section at Cosmetics/Pages/passover.aspx.