The Times West Virginian

December 23, 2013

Avoid hidden dangers of the season

By Emily Gallagher
Times West Virginian

FAIRMONT — With the holiday season a lot of focus can be on decorations, food, get-togethers and being with family.

But there are some other holiday happenings that could cause harm if they are overlooked.

Carissa McBurney, community outreach coordinator of the West Virginia Poison Center, said decorations, toys and even food can become hazardous during the holiday season.

“Poisonings often occur when normal routines are disrupted, as is common during the holidays,” McBurney said.

For parents, McBurney said they need to be on the lookout for toys that may have recalls or any unsafe chemical claims.

“As a parent, I know that I always research the toys that I’m about to purchase,” she said. “Just to make sure that there haven’t been any safety recalls or recalls due to any unsafe chemicals being used.”

McBurney said to also purchase toys that are age-appropriate. Toys with choking hazards may not be appropriate for younger children and babies.

“There can be choking hazards with toys just as well as there can be poison hazards,” McBurney said.

Toys with battery or high-powered, small magnets should also be researched. McBurney said to make sure a toy that needs batteries has a compartment for them.

“If a toy doesn’t have a compartment or a closure for batteries, for children that can be a huge problem,” she said. “They can ingest those and cause serious digestive problems and even death.”

McBurney said if a child would swallow more than one high-powered magnet, it could physically get stuck in their digestive track and erode, which could cause death in children.

Recently, McBurney said the center has seen cases where toys with objects that expand in water have been swallowed.

“When a child swallows those, they will continue to expand in their digestive track just like they expand when they are touched with water,” she said.

She said an easy way to stay with safe toys is to simply do research on them before purchase.

Another holiday safety issue is with decorations. McBurney said that although they show our holiday spirit, they need to be placed in areas where pets and small children cannot reach them.

“Some decorations that we see that are dangerous are usually candles that sit in glass lamps that are filled with liquid fuels,” she said. “Sometimes those fuels burn pretty colors, and those are dangerous if they have been swallowed.”

Snow spray that is used at the bottom of trees could also cause serious harm. McBurney said if that spray gets into someone’s eyes it could serious damage.

“Keep any products like that up and away from children, but also follow the warning labels and directions,” she said.

With Christmas just around the corner and New Year’s coming after, a lot of people like to enjoy alcohol while celebrating the holidays.

McBurney said a lot of parents don’t realize that with children, alcohol can be very dangerous. Like decorations, she said, make sure all alcohol products are up and away from children.

After a party, McBurney said, most parents leave the mess to clean up in the morning. She said if a child wakes up before the parents or after they go to bed, that child may be interested in finishing an alcoholic beverage that has been left out.

“One of the main things to do is clean it up when the party is over,” McBurney said. “It might be something that attracts them, and it may just be the child mimicking parents.”

McBurney said adults who do enjoy drinking alcohol need to make sure they do not mix it with any medications.

Other holiday tips to stay safe from hazardous materials and items include cooking all the way through meat and not using the same plate or dish before cooking and after cooking to avoid cross-contamination.

“You also want to keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold,” McBurney said.

McBurney said if a child or adult does seem to have been poisoned, whether it be through food, a toy, decorations or any other items, contact the poison center for information on how to treat the situation. She said in some case they need to call 911.

To contact the West Virginia Poison Center call 1-800-222-1222 or visit the website at

Email Emily Gallagher at or follow her on Twitter @EGallagherTWV.