The Full Story
Many calls to Poison Control are about exposures to very dangerous poisons. One of the most important parts of Poison Control's job is to help people in those situations.
Poison specialists also answer questions about substances that may seem deadly or scary, but actually are not very bad at all. We call these items non-toxic. What does this mean?
A non-toxic substance is one that is not expected to cause symptoms or be dangerous. A good example is silica gel. Most of us have seen this packet in new shoe boxes, cameras, purses, coffee cans, and medicines. Silica gel absorbs moisture, keeping the item you purchased in good condition as it is being shipped to the store. Most of these packets say "Do Not Eat" on the outside, which is a bit scary-sounding to be sure. While silica gel is not made to be eaten, it's not poisonous either.
Most arts and crafts products made for use by children are safe, and you can tell for sure if you see the seal AP on the package. AP stands for Approved Product; this seal comes from the Art and Creative Materials Institute.
Children and pets are always finding lots of other types of objects to play with or eat. Some popular items that are non-toxic include:
It's best to keep these items out of your little one's reach. They could be a choking hazard even if they're not poisonous. (Toys belonging to older children can also choke a toddler. It's a challenge to keep the older kids' things out of the way of your curious toddler, but it's important.)
How can you tell if something is or is not poisonous? Sometimes, you can't. That's why it's always best to use the webPOISONCONTROL® tool or to call Poison Control at 1-800-222-1222 if you have a concern. Poison Control can make sure that the product isn't harmful; we are happy to answer questions about a non-toxic substance.
Barbara Schmitz, RN
Certified Specialist in Poison Information
McGuigan MA et al. Guideline for the out-of-hospital management of human exposures to minimally toxic substances. J Tox Clin Tox. 2003;41:907-917.
Not everything a child grabs is poisonous. But small toy parts and objects can choke a child. Keep older children's toys out of reach.
This Really Happened
Case 1: A mom called Poison Control, frantic because her little boy had swallowed some birth control pills. The poison specialist assured the mom that this would not be dangerous to her son, now or when he grew up.
Case 2: Another mom called Poison Control, frantic because her little girl had swallowed a blue crayon and now her lips were blue. The crayon was not poisonous - but it turned out that the child had inhaled the crayon. Her airway was partly blocked; her blue lips were from lack of oxygen, not the blue crayon. She was taken to the emergency room by ambulance, was treated, and recovered.