SPECIAL ASSIGNMENT: Dangers in the home

Published: Oct. 27, 2016 at 4:59 PM EDT
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October 27, 2016

AUGUSTA, Ga.(WRDW/WAGT) -- Federal law requires companies to meet a lot of requirements to keep you and your family safe when it comes to labeling chemicals. But, the law has trouble protecting you from putting those chemicals into other containers, like a water bottle. It may seem like a good idea at the time, but that quick convenience for your cleaning supplies could cost you or a loved one their life.

Mark Dillman knows that firsthand. He was a strong, healthy, 37 year old. He had never been in the hospital a day in his life. But, that was half a year and 60 pounds ago before a swig from a Powerade bottle changed his life forever.

"A friend of the family had left it in the car. We grabbed it thinking it was part of our groceries," said Dillman.

The friend had poured air conditioner coil cleaner, an extremely corrosive, bright blue liquid, in the Powerade bottle to take to his uncle's house.

"The next day, I was working out in the yard. Probably 9:00 in the morning, it was hot. Grabbed it out of the freezer not noticing it wasn't frozen. Took one big gulp, and it changed everything," he said.

He started convulsing, screaming, vomiting, and felt his insides turn to an inferno. "It was hell. I begged God, begged the doctors, the EMTs, just to kill me," he said.

He spent days in the Intensive Care Unit and weeks in the hospital.

"They say I shouldn't have made it past the first night in the ICU. It's a miracle I'm alive," he said.

Mark is still haunted by what could have happened, since his eight year old nephew was home that day, too.

"I thank God it was me instead of him. He's my world. I love him to death," he said.

Dr. Julie Jacobs treats patients in the Emergency Room at the Children's Hospital of Georgia, and sees what happens when a child swallows caustic chemicals.

"It's very serious. It can cause a lot of respiratory issues as well as the esophageal burning. A lot of the kids either die from it or end up in the ICU," she said.

She sees about a dozen kids a year come into the Emergency Room after being accidentally poisoned, and often, chemicals poured into sports drink containers are the culprit.

"Gatorade containers are really commonly seen, and it's a big problem because kids either don't read or they just see Gatorade, and think, 'Oh hey! It's fluorescent colored, let me drink it,'" she said.

Paint thinner is another easy chemical to mistake. Back in 2014, we interviewed Laquana Hatcher, whose three year old drank from a water bottle full of paint thinner left behind by maintenance workers.

"Why would you take chemicals like this out of the original container and pour it in a water bottle?" asked Hatcher.

Unfortunately, it's more common than you might think. We put it to the test with paint thinner, anti-freeze, and the same air conditioner cleaner Mark drank. We found it was nearly impossible to distinguish between the drink and the chemical.

When Mark took a gulp of the air conditioner cleaner, he said it had no odor to it, and he never would have imagined that big gulp would be his last.

Now, most of his food and medicine come from a tube, and he can only swallow small bites that melt in his mouth.

"I want this to be in every mother or father's head, that they don't need to do it because it could be their child. I don't want anybody to go through what I'm going through. I wouldn't wish this on my worst enemy," he said.

If something like this happens to you, the best thing you can do is call Poison Control (800) 222-1222 or 911. Every chemical is a little different, so the response will be different. In Mark's case, he drank a concentrated liquid. So, when he drank water to try to help, it actually made it worse by activating it.