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BfR warns about intoxication incidents involving liquid grill lighters

15/2005, 24.05.2005

Small children are particularly at risk

As soon as the thermometer climbs above 20 degrees, the smell of people grilling on German balconies and terraces invades the air. In line with this trend, the trade has extended its offering by adding charcoal, grill lighters and garden torches. But caution: the pleasures of grilling can quickly turn into a nightmare. This can happen when small children mistake liquid grill lighters for beverages and drink them. "Even the smallest amounts of these paraffin-containing oils can creep into the lungs after being swallowed and trigger severe chemical inflammation there", says Dr. Axel Hahn, Head of the BfR Registration Office for Intoxications. Over the last five years 38 accidents involving liquid grill lighters have been notified to BfR. Small children were affected in 35 cases. Liquid grill lighters should be kept out of the reach of children. BfR advises parents to switch to solid cube or bar-shaped grill lighters.

Lamp oils and liquid grill lighters contain paraffin-based oils and petroleum distillates. In the past there have been repeated accidents with these substances leading to severe damage to health and even to fatalities. For instance, last year, a two-year old boy drank a liquid grill lighter – the exact quantity is unknown. The dangerous oils “crept” into his lungs. The child suffered massive breathing disturbances and had to be put on a ventilator. He spent almost three weeks in hospital with a severe inflammation of the lungs and subsequent disorders of the respiratory tract. Fortunately, the child recovered fully.

A total of 16 out of 38 reported accidents with lighters on a paraffin basis over the last five years resulted in severe cases of inflammation of the lungs. 36 of those affected had, in some cases, to spend several weeks in hospital. Given the serious complications consumers must be aware of the health risks associated with these products and protect small children in particular from the dangers. “Already when preparations start for the barbecue season, care must be taken to ensure that grill lighters are kept out of the reach of children”, stresses BfR expert, Hahn. “As soon as the charcoal starts to glow, it should be in a location which is inaccessible to children.

BfR believes that solid cube or bar-shaped grill lighters are less dangerous because the liquid constituents are bound to sawdust or cork powder. There is almost no risk that the harmful oils in these products can creep into the lungs if ingested.

What applies to liquid grill lighters, applies equally to garden torches and oil lamps. Although repeated warnings from BfR and a series of safety measures have reduced the risk of accidents in recent years, there are still repeated incidences of tragic accidents when torches or easily accessible oil lamps fall into the hands of small children. That’s why BfR appeals to people to open the garden and barbecue season by undertaking a chemical check in their homes. Oils on a paraffin or petroleum basis should be discarded or at least stored where they are out of the reach of children and clearly labelled as toxic chemicals. Specifically for oil lamps and garden torches less dangerous substitutes, for instance on a rapeseed oil basis, are commercially available.

If, despite all the precautionary measures, a child has swallowed even the smallest amount of a liquid grill lighter, garden torch or lamp oil, the following rules should be complied with:

  • Do not induce vomiting!
    Vomit and, by extension, oil can penetrate the lungs.

  • Contact a poison control centre immediately!
    Even in the case of the mildest symptoms like direct, persistent coughing, the child must see a doctor or be taken to hospital. If possible, take the product involved with you in its original packaging which will enable the attending doctor to give precise product information to the poison control centre. The more information available, the more targeted help can be given.

  • Doctor’s notification duty in the case of intoxications!
    In order to identify the dangers early on and to take precautionary measures, BfR requires information on each intoxication incident. Draw your doctor’s attention to his statutory notification obligation.


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