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BgVV and ESPED conduct study on cases of poisoning associated with lamp oils

09/2000, 22.05.2000

Effect of risk-reducing measures to be examined

Together with the Survey Unit for Rare Paediatric Diseases in Germany (ESPED), BgVV is to record the frequency and severity of poisoning accidents involving lamp oil in German children's clinics. The goal of this survey is to examine the efficacy of protective measures against perfumed and coloured lamp oils on a paraffin or petroleum basis in Germany. Since 1 March 2000, 23 cases of lamp oil poisonings have been notified to BgVV in conjunction with this study.

The background:

Of all household chemicals the dangerous paraffin and petroleum-containing coloured, perfumed lamp oils have the highest risk potential for children between one and three years of age. Since 1990 three small children have died as a consequence of lamp oil aspiration. According to BgVV surveys there has been an increase in inquiries about lamp oil accidents, particularly since 1989 in German poison control centres (GIZ). Between 1994 and 1996 250-300 cases of chemical pneumonias have been recorded every year in small children in these centres. In most cases, children drank the oil from the lamps which were within reach and not stored safely.

On the initiative of BgVV risk measures like child-resistant closures (from 1992), special warnings (from 1994), special labelling and classifications (R-phrase: R 65) and proposals for the amended design of oil lamps have gradually been introduced but they only had a limited effect. In order to avoid cases of aspiration, the sale of dangerous perfumed and coloured lamp oils with low viscosity and interfacial tension has been banned throughout the EU. In the Federal Republic of Germany, this ban came into force on 1 January 1999 and has already prompted the market launch of substitute products (e.g. on the basis of biodiesel). The efficacy of this ban is to be examined within the space of three years throughout Europe.

Based on previous experience, the actual number and the severity of the cases of poisonings with lamp oils cannot be reliably recorded either through telephone inquiries to German poison control centres or through the medical notifications of poisonings pursuant to § 16e para 1 Chemicals Act (ChemG). An exact picture can only be obtained as to whether the measures are taking effect through surveys in German children's clinics.

The following questions should be answered:

  • How many cases had to be treated in children's clinics?
  • Which products containing which ingredients led to the accidents?
  • Did children drink directly from the oil lamps or from the refill containers?
  • How dangerous are the substitute products on the market?

The study data are evaluated every year during the study period and the results are presented in the brochure "Medical Notifications of Poisonings" (Ärztliche Mitteilungen bei Vergiftungen - document in German) to the specialist public and, more particularly, to parents. The study ends with an overall publication and a follow-up report for the EU outlining the health situation with regard to lamp oils in Germany.

BgVV asks the attending doctors and the parents concerned for their active support in filling out the study questionnaires. What is particularly important is the identification of the lamp oil products which caused the poisonings from photocopies of the lamp oil labels.


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