• Eric Tyler, MD

Chemicals of Summer

Updated: Jun 5, 2019

Memorial Day has come and passed ushering in the three months of summer. With those months come exposure to chemicals most of us do not know or think about but they are there and they do pose a risk, especially to the young patients we serve.

This list is by no means exhaustive, but it is presented for your contemplation.

1. Pool chemicals. Swimming pools have added a new dimension to summer in the South. No longer do some of our community beg Mom to go swimming. They just run out the back door and swim whenever they desire. The drowning risk is always a clear and present danger. But did you know that there are 4500 trips to the ED due to swimming pool chemicals each year? Salt is not really a chemical. Chlorine is a caustic chemical. The Chlorine smell alone can cause lung damage if inhaled in enough concentration for a long enough period. Chemicals on skin, in lung, in eyes and in the stomach are the major methods of body injury. Store chemicals where only adults have access. Open in a well ventilated place. Wash your hands with plenty of water after handling and even consider water proof gloves while handling.

2. Sunscreens. The history of sun exposure and the impact on the skin has taken some weird turns over history. In the 1800’s poor people had suntans as they had to work out of doors. The wealthy women wore long clothes and bonnets to protect their skin from the sun. In the mid 1950’s sun tanning was something desired. Coppertone, Sea and Ski were at first tanning enhancing products. “Tan don’t burn, it’s a Coppertone tan.” A billboard of a prominent tan line on a six year old female as a dog pulled the waist band of her swim suit dotted the South. As data from Australia began to be gathered suggesting skin cancer risks increase with skin sun burning events that were cumulative, sun screen to prevent burns were developed. The first of those to become commercially promoted was PABA in the early 1980’s. Now, newer, supposedly more protective products are available. Mid May 2019, JAMA published an article documenting blood levels of the sunscreen chemicals within one hour after application to the skin. Once in the body, chemicals have to be passed out somehow either by the lung, kidney or liver. Chemicals such as these have to pass through the liver. What are the consequences of a life time of exposure to these chemicals? No one knows. Remember the kids at the pool with white, purple, yellow or blues faces? That product is Zinc Oxide. It has been used on raw skin for more than sixty years. It is the active ingredient in most baby diaper rash creams. It is considered skin healthy. Zinc Oxide has been re-formulated. It is no longer white and a cream rather it is a clear lotion. It is available as Aveeno Sensitive with an SPF 50.

3. Insect repellents. Ticks, mosquitoes and the Hymenoptera (wasps, hornets, and yellow jackets) certainly pose a risk during the summer months. Ticks are carriers of Rocky Mountain spotted fever, Lyme disease and about five other long named bad germs. A walking tick poses no risk however one embedded for eight hours has time aplenty to off load a bad bug in the blood stream of the victim. One to ten days later, disease strikes with often fatal results. Close inspection of the head, scalp, and body is a very important task after a day outside. Mosquitoes carry Zika, West Nile and Eastern Equine Encephalitis viruses. The wasps just pack a wallop when they sting.

Citronella (Avon Skin So Soft) works well for some folks. It poses little risk. A Bounce dryer Sheet in the back pocket provides protection for others. DEET is the active ingredient in OFF and Cutter. Deet in the aerosol form is fat soluble which means that it can penetrate skin and give a blood level. This product has induced brain toxicity in young children. DEET is available in a water soluble formula as well. It is the squirt bottle OFF called “Skintastic”. This provides good protection with less risk. As to the wasps, application of a roll-on or gel deodorant that contains an active ingredient that is “Aluminum” based. Secret, Ban or Arrid will work just fine. A travel size packs well.

When things do go wrong with chemicals in the eye, on the skin, in the lung or in the stomach, remember Alabama’s award winning Poison Control Center, 1-800-222-1222. The competent toxicology staff will talk you through spider bites, snake bites, eaten leaves or berries as well. This number should be in everybody’s cell phone.

Have a safe, fun summer outside. No virtual video game program can substitute for the world God has created.

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