I-TEAM: Kitchen chemists making themselves sick trying to make the perfect COVID-19 cleaner

(Nick Youngson / Alpha Stock Images / CC BY-SA 3.0)
(Nick Youngson / Alpha Stock Images / CC BY-SA 3.0)(NBC15)
Published: May. 12, 2020 at 3:41 PM EDT
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Tuesday, May 12, 2020

News 12 at 6 O'Clock/NBC at 7

AUGUSTA, GA (WRDW/WAGT) -- People are turning into kitchen chemists during COVID-19 and it’s making them sick. The Georgia Poison Center blames a shortage of cleaning supplies for an increase in calls throughout the state.

What’s under your kitchen sink? Is it a little bit of this and a little bit of that? Many of us are using whatever is left in our cabinets to clean our homes and we found it could lead to a lethal combination

Taking care of business at home has never been more difficult when shelves still sit empty at stores.

“It doesn’t surprise us that people will start mixing and matching and probably play a little bit of household chemist,” Georgia Poison Center Director Gaylord Lopez said.

Lopez says people are becoming ill while trying to keep the virus out of their homes.

“We’ve gotten people inadvertently inhaling when it’s fumes of ammonia,” Lopez said. “They are getting nasal burns and eye irritation, so there are a lot of chemicals around that can hurt, and if you are in an enclosed area with very little air flow and poor ventilation, again another place where you can be severely poisoned.”

We found poisoning calls involving the combination of cleaning agents more than doubled in Georgia during March and April. Records show one call came from Richmond County -- four more calls all came from people in Columbia County. All four there got sick after mixing bleach with other cleaning agents.

“So she was your classic germaphobe like a lot of us are and she wanted to clean her bathroom a little bit more so she mixed common household bleach with lysol disinfectant, produced a fume, and really got ill,” Lopez said.

Fumes can cause burns, chemical pneumonia and worse.

“What we tell them to do is to never mix bleach with toilet bowl cleaner,” Lopez said. “In fact, if you remember your 6th grade chemistry class, toilet bowl cleaner is actually very strong and potent acid, so if you turn the label, you will see sulfuric acid, you will see phosphoric acid for toilet bowl cleaner,” Lopez said. “When you mix an acid with bleach it produces chlorine gas.”

He warns chlorine gas can kill if in the right amount.

“Make sure you read label instructions,” Lopez said. “I know it seems pretty straight forward, but a lot of us start playing chemist and when we A with B with C there are potential problems out there.”

Those problems are much bigger than taking care of business at home.

Lopez says open a window when you clean. Ventilation and air can help protect us from dangerous chemical fumes.

Copyright 2020 WRDW/WAGT. All rights reserved.

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