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Tightening of trade in lamp oils and grill lighter fluids

05/2011, 28.01.2011

BfR risk assessment has consequences

Since the end of last year lamp oils and grill lighter fluids on a paraffin basis may only be sold in black, opaque containers not exceeding one litre. This is to make children less curious than coloured liquids in transparent containers and prevent confusion with beverages. The containers must now be marked indelibly with the additional phrase "Just a sip of lamp oil - or even sucking the wick of lamps - may lead to life-threatening lung damage" or "Just a sip of grill lighter may lead to life-threatening lung damage". Despite repeated warnings, serious accidents involving lamp oils and grill lighter fluids happened time and again, since above all children drank them inadvertently. The paraffins in the liquids cause life-threatening chemical pneumonia. BfR has advocated tighter regulations for these products since its setting up: "With the new regulations the health, in particular of children, is at last properly protected", says BfR President Professor Dr. Dr. Andreas Hensel.

In a first step an EU-wide ban on the placing on the market of coloured and scented lamp oils on a paraffin basis was enforced effective 1 July 2000. Since non-coloured lamp oils with the same composition were not affected by the ban, poisonings continued to occur. Two children died in 2004. An analysis of all poisonings revealed that grill lighter fluids which have the same composition in terms of substances as paraffin-containing lamp oils, caused increasingly partly serious poisonings in children. For this reason Germany forcefully advocated on a European level a further tightening of the regulations and demanded the inclusion of grill lighter fluids. The European Commission submitted a proposal for a regulation which was approved by member states and entered into force on 1 December 2010.

The now prescribed black, opaque containers are to prevent confusion with beverage bottles. The imprint informs consumers, in addition, about the risk of poisoning. If a child nonetheless swallows inadvertently lamp oil or grill lighter fluid or sucks the wick of an oil lamp, no vomiting may be induced. This would increase the risk of liquid penetrating the lung and damaging it. The affected child should immediately be taken to a doctor or a hospital. A successful treatment requires detailed product knowledge. For that reason it is absolutely necessary to take along and submit the product and its packaging.

About BfR

The Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) is a scientific institution within the portfolio of the Federal Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Consumer Protection (BMELV). It advises the Federal Government and Federal Laender on questions of food, chemical and product safety. BfR engages in own research on topics that are closely linked to its assessment tasks.


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