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Hand Sanitizer Exposures On Rise; Mother Warns Other Parents After Kindergartener Collapses From Alcohol Poisoning

MOON TOWNSHIP (KDKA) -- A Moon Township mother has a warning for every parent out there about hand sanitizer. She says what happened to her young daughter was a nightmare that no other parent should ever have to endure.

It was her second day of kindergarten at Moon Area's J.H. Brooks Elementary School.

The little girl set up her desk with pencils and supplies including a fresh bottle of hand sanitizer, which was on the list of school supplies for the kindergarten class.

By lunch, the 5-year-old girl had collapsed.

"The principal called and said to get to the school immediately," the girl's mom said. "She was walking a little wobbly down the hall. By the time they got to the classroom, to the lunchroom, she fell and couldn't sit up straight."

The mom to three young children does not want to be identified, but did want to share the story of her youngest. She said the little girl was rushed to Children's Hospital from the school.

"She was completely out of it. I tried to wake her and she opened her eyes briefly and she looked at me, but it was almost as if she looked straight through me. And she started to cry and then she laid back down," the mother said. "I was very scared. I had no idea. The medic didn't have any idea either."

Hours later, at the hospital, the little girl came to, but mom still had no answers as to what happened, until the school called again.

"This class, each student has their own sanitizer pump bottle at their desk with their name on it for their personal use," the mother said. "My daughter had consumed half of that bottle. She consumed 6 ounces of 70% alcohol."

Her blood-alcohol level was .23.

In a statement, the school Superintendent Barry Balaski said, "The health and wellness of our students is a priority. The district provides hand-sanitizing stations that are available in each of our schools. In addition, students are permitted to have hand sanitizer in their desk or backpack. However, students are not required to keep it in their desk or backpack, particularly if a parent/guardian does not want them to have it."

Dr. Michael Lynch, head of the Pittsburgh Poison Center, says there's been an increase of kids ingesting hand sanitizer.

"In Pennsylvania, in the last 18 months, more or less since the start of the pandemic, we've seen a 56% increase in hand sanitizer exposure cases compared to the 18 months prior to that," he said.

Dr. Lynch says that amounts to about 2,300 cases, most under the age of 5, and about 6% of those kids needed to go to the hospital.

"Hand sanitizers will typically have 70% or so ethanol, which means they're about 140 proof," Dr. Lynch said. "Even a small amount can be enough to get intoxicated."

The little girl is okay now, but her mom still worries about what happened and wants to make sure other parents and caregivers are aware of the dangers.

"I'm hopeful that there's not going to be any long-term effects of this," she said of her daughter.

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