The early 20th century is often referred to as the “Consumer Chemical Revolution.” Americans became obsessed with cleanliness and personal hygiene after having a better understanding of the germ theory. Many of the products that were created during this time were caustic, meaning they could burn or destroy tissue by chemical action. There was little to no regulation of these products during this time. People had little to no safety information or safety mechanisms in place to prevent poisonings. Here is an example of a product that was once on the market with no regulation.
Mrs. Winslow's Soothing Syrup for teething babies. This product was created in 1849, it contained morphine and alcohol and was recommended in high doses. The ingredients were not listed on the packaging. It was estimated that thousands of babies overdosed or died from withdrawal due to this product. At the time it was not generally known how addicting & dangerous morphine could be.
Years later, The Pure Food and Drug Act was passed in the United States in 1906 which forced companies to disclose the active ingredients on packaging. Several over regulatory milestones took place after to alert consumers about the potential hazards of product. Yet, even with labeling laws, poisonings were still considered to be the leading cause of childhood injuries for kids under the age of 5.
As a result, many public health education campaigns began to increase the public’s awareness of poisonings. In 1961, President Kennedy even signed a resolution, which designated the 3rd full week in March as National Poison Prevention Week, in an effort to bring awareness of the dangers of accidental poisonings. Even with this resolution, poisoning trends were still going up, not down.
At the same time, Canada was also seeing increases in childhood poisoning exposures. Like many other doctors having seen too many cases of poisonings in children, Dr. Henri Breault, who was Chief of Pediatrics and Director of the Poison Control Centre at the Hotel Dieu Hospital was tired of seeing countless children hurt by poisons. He refocused his efforts from preventative to protective measures—namely, he aimed to invent a physical barrier that would keep children from opening medicine bottles. Breault teamed up with Peter Hedgewick in the development of child-resistant containers. They invented the “Palm N Turn” bottle cap.
Use of the cap began to spread in Canada & poisonings began to decrease. At the time, in the U.S., the chairman of the Food and Drug Administration formed a committee to look at child resistant packaging & they soon got word of the “Palm N Turn ” bottle cap. They began testing this device in Tacoma, Washington. The results were so promising that in 1970, president Nixon signed the Poison Prevention Packaging Act (PPPA) into law. To this day, the PPPA requires a number of household substances to be packaged in child-resistant packaging. Once this regulation was in effect, reported deaths from ingestions by children of toxic household products, including medications, dropped dramatically.
Credit: Shou tout to Kristin Wenger from the Blue Ridge Poison Center for her great presentation on this topic!
Learn more about the Poison Prevention Packaging Act, click here.
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