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Glow sticks are not for small children

25/2009, 21.10.2009

BfR records increased number of accidents involving small children and glow sticks

Since 2005 the Berlin poison emergency hotline has recorded a major increase in accidents involving small children and glow sticks. In 2005 105 inquiries were recorded but by last year this number had risen to 393. The poison emergency hotline has provided information on this subject to the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR). Children put the glow sticks in their mouths. When they bite on them, the liquid contained inside leaks out. It seems to burn and irritate the oral mucosa. The discomfort is temporary but BfR President Dr. Dr. Andreas Hensel advises consumers to be careful, "As the manufacturers are usually not known and no details are provided on the packaging about ingredients, we have no precise information about the composition of the liquids in the glow sticks." Parents should, therefore, keep them out of the reach of small children. Glow sticks are becoming increasingly popular at children’s birthday parties. Sometimes, they are carried and moved around in their mouths. If they should be swallowed whole there is no reason to worry. Glow sticks are not destroyed during digestion and are excreted.

Glow sticks contain chemical illuminants. They consist of a flexible plastic stick with two chambers containing different chemical liquids. If the stick is bent, the liquids from the two chambers merge. The chemical reaction leads to the stick glowing. Depending on the composition of the glow sticks, the stick glows in a certain colour and for a certain amount of time.

Glow sticks are easily transportable emergency lights. Anglers use them in order to be able to see the float and tip of their fishing rod in the dark, too. They are also being increasingly worn as a party accessory in the mouth and then moved to and fro like a sweet. This is not problematic as long as the glow sticks remain intact. If the glow liquid leaks, for instance through chewing on the stick, then this may lead to irritation of the oral mucosa.

It is very difficult to assess the health risks because no information is generally available about the exact composition of the products. Glow sticks are normally sold individually at concerts, fairs, discotheques and at other events as well as on the Internet. They are mostly imported. Normally these products do not carry any details of the manufacturers or ingredients.

As BfR does not have any detailed information about the exact composition of the glow liquids, the Institute points out - as a precautionary measure - that glow sticks should not be stored within reach of small children.

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