Following Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, many residents needed to clean and disinfect their homes from mold and water damage. The common cleaning method involves first using detergent, followed by a bleach and water solution. However, a data review by the Department of Health shows many citizens improperly mix bleach with other household cleaners, which can cause health effects ranging from mild skin irritation to respiratory failure.

Health officials were concerned about improper bleach use since there were so many citizens cleaning up mold-damaged homes and conducted a review of data from the Louisiana Poison Control Center from September 1, 2005 through February 28, 2006.

The data shows that in this six-month period, 65 people called the Poison Control hotline to report health effects from accidentally mixing bleach with other cleaners. No deaths were reported but 26 percent of the cases sought medical care. The majority of callers reported experiencing respiratory symptoms such as coughing, throat irritation and difficulty breathing.

Health officials believe the calls to the Poison Control hotline under-represent the actual number of this occurrence, and wish to remind citizens that they should never mix bleach with other household cleaning products, and they also should be mindful not to use a household cleaner on a surface already cleaned with bleach if the bleach solution has not dried already.

“Household products that people use every day, such as bathroom cleaners, toilet bowl cleaners, drain clog removers and vinegar contain acids and ammonia that when mixed with bleach or bleach-containing cleaners produce toxic gases,” said LDH Secretary Dr. Fred Cerise. “We want people to be mindful of this potentially harmful risk as they work to remove mold from their homes, and also to be aware of this when they are cleaning with more than one product. It is never a good idea to mix cleansers together.”

A copy of the data review is available online at: http://www.dhh.louisiana.gov/offices/publications/pubs-249/marapr06.pdf.

For information on how to properly use bleach to clean and remove mold from water-damaged property, please visit: http://www.dhh.louisiana.gov/offices/publications/pubs-205/mold_2005_0221.pdf.

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