Saturday, July 24, 2010

Staying Safe Around Dangerous Substances

With all the recent posts about medical controversies I've ended up doing a bit of extra research. After all it helps to know how many people are affected by various syndromes or diseases. Along the way I found a summary of the leading causes of deaths in the United States. Reading down the page I came to the section on leading causes of accidental deaths.

Number 1? Motor Vehicles. They're not just out to kill you in the movies. After that comes unspecified non-transport accidents. Then falls. Then poisoning and noxious substances.

13% of accidental deaths are caused by poisoning. That seems about right to me when it comes to covering all ages.

What surprised me is the stats for poisoning when they're broken down into age groups. The percentage of accidental deaths caused by poisoning for different ages looks like this:

  • < 1 yr - 1.6%
  • 1-4 yrs - 1.8%
  • 5-14 yrs - 1.5%
  • 15-24 yrs - 8.2%
  • 25-34 yrs - 30.3%
  • 45-54 yrs - 24.9%
  • 55-64 yrs - 9.2%
  • 65-74 yrs - 3.6%
  • 75-84 yrs - 2.1%
  • > 85 yrs - 1.6%
Those numbers had me thinking. They just didn't make much sense at first. Aren't we supposed to be worried about accidental poisoning in children? Isn't the push to keep chemicals, cleaners, and other noxious substances away from little kids and their inquisitive nature?

The low percentage or under 1 year old makes sense. Not too many infants can poison themselves and parents are very careful around infants. Almost 65% of accidental infant deaths are due to unspecified non-transport accidents. That sounds about right.

Moving up the list though I'd thought that the percentages of accidental deaths would be higher in kids and even in teens. Yes I know there are other accidental causes of death that come in to play as we get older but I never suspected that poisoning was responsible for over a quarter of the accidental deaths for Americans between 25 and 54. What are we doing to ourselves?

What the numbers do show is that poisoning is a significant cause of accidental deaths. National Poison Prevention Week (video) is in March. There are ample tips to be found on protecting your children from dangerous substances. And if you look around you can also find information on preventing poisonings among the elderly (pdf).

All of which is good information and incredibly useful and has saved lives. Even so... maybe all of us in the middle of our lives should be careful as well. Maybe we don't take the chance we'll accidentally poison ourselves seriously enough.

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