Just over a week ago, fifteen football players from Springbrook High School received chemical burns as a result of contact with Virex II 256, a disinfectant meant to be used exclusively on hard, non-porous surfaces. Coaches were concerned about an outbreak of staphylococcus (staph infection), so they sprayed down the locker room and football equipment with the disinfectant. When it came in contact with the players during practice, the disinfectant left first and second degree chemical burns.
There’s no indication that the burns were the result of any sort of malice. To the contrary, the decision to the clean the lockers was made in an effort to prevent the further spread of infection. Sam Rivera, the school’s principal, reported it was “an effort to be proactive and do the right thing by kids.” Unfortunately, by not following the safety measures described on the cleaning agent’s label, those proactive measures lead to serious lifelong consequences.
Label Instructions Are Important
The label for Virex II 256 warns that the disinfectant can cause “irreversible eye damage and skin burns.” It further cautions against getting the disinfectant in the eyes, on the skin, or on clothing. If clothing becomes contaminated, the label advises to wash clothing before wearing it again.
For the Springbrook football players, the issue was that their porous football pads were cleaned with the disinfectant and were not washed before use. When the team began to move and sweat during practice, the disinfectant came seeping out of the pores within the equipment. Within an hour, players were complaining about burning sensations on their backs and chest. By that evening, players were being treated in the emergency rooms for second degree burns. All because the safety instructions provided on the label weren’t followed.
The Federal Hazardous Substances Act (FHSA) and Consumer Product Safety Act are labeling requirements issued by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). CPSC created these requirements out of concern for safety of consumer products available to the public. The regulations require manufactures to test their products and issue warning labels to educate consumers about safe handling and first aid.
The FHSA (codified in Title 15, Chapter 30 of the U.S. Code) governs labeling of potentially hazardous substances, such as Virex II 256. As defined by the FHSA, a hazardous substance includes any substance which is toxic, corrosive, an irritant, a strong sensitizer, flammable, or combustible. Any substance that meets this fairly broad definition (almost all of the cleaning agents in your house) is required to provide precautionary statements telling consumers what they must do or what actions they must avoid to protect themselves and, where appropriate, instructions for first aid treatment to perform in the event that the product injures someone.
For consumers, this should translate to increased safety. We have access to important preventative and first aid information each and every time we go to use a product containing potentially harmful chemicals.