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Environ Health Perspect. 2003 October; 111(13): 1654–1659.
PMCID: PMC1241689
Research Article

Acute occupational disinfectant-related illness among youth, 1993-1998.


Working youths face many safety and health risks. Among these risks are those posed by disinfectant exposures. In this study we describe acute occupational disinfectant-related illness among youth. Data on U.S. children younger than 18 years with acute occupational disinfectant-related illnesses between 1993 and 1998 were collected from the Toxic Exposure Surveillance System and from the California Department of Pesticide Regulation. We analyzed data from persons with exposures who met the case definition for acute occupational disinfectant-related illness. The case definition required onset of new adverse health effects that were both temporally related to a disinfectant exposure and consistent with the known toxicology of the disinfectant. We calculated incidence rates of acute occupational disinfectant-related illness among youths 15-17 years old and incidence rate ratios to compare these rates with those of adults 25-44 years old. We found 307 children with disinfectant-related illnesses. The average annual incidence rate was 16.8/billion hours worked with a relative risk compared with adults of 4.14 (95% confidence interval, 3.66-4.68). Most illnesses were of mild severity (78%). There were no fatalities. Hypochlorites (e.g., bleach) were responsible for 45% of the illnesses. Among the 206 cases where the responsible disinfectant's U.S. Environmental Protection Agency toxicity category was known, 80% were in category I (highest toxicity level). These findings suggest the need for greater efforts to prevent adolescent acute occupational disinfectant-related illness. This may require strengthening regulations and enforcement as well as increased educational efforts directed at employers, youths, parents, school officials, and physicians. Better mechanisms for reporting and tracking chemical illnesses among working adolescents are also needed.

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