Chemical poisoning

For requests, information, enquiries and complaints on chemical poisoning, please contact Population Health.

Please visit the following websites for more information:

A poison (chemical) is anything that is harmful to the body. It can be swallowed, inhaled, absorbed through the skin or injected under the skin.

Acute poisoning is as a result of poison entering the body in a short time and chronic poisoning results from gradual accumulation of a poison in the body.

Chemical poisoning is a major public health concern and approximately 95 per cent of all accidental or intentional poisons are due to chemicals.  Nearly 90 per cent of these occur at home. People that are most at risk of accidental (acute) poisoning are children, infants and toddlers.

Effective management of hazardous substances throughout their lifecycle is necessary to avoid adverse health effects from either direct exposure or environmental contamination.

Population Health is involved in the prevention of injuries from exposures to hazardous substances. Designated Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act enforcement officers enforce the Act in respect of hazardous substances in public places.

Population Health’s role also relates to situations where, notwithstanding other agencies' responsibilities, there is a need to protect public health.

Health protection officers provide information and advice to the public on hazardous substances including:

  • Lead and lead poisoning
  • Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs)
  • Mercury

Under the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms (HSNO) Act(external link), other agencies also have substantial hazardous substances roles and responsibilities including:

  • Department of Labour(external link) which responsible for ensuring that the provisions of the Act are enforced in any place of work
  • Territorial local authorities who are responsible for ensuring that the provisions of the Act are enforced in or on any premises situated in the district of the territorial authority other than those premises specified in s97 HSNO Act as being the responsibility of another agency.

Get additional information about hazardous substances(external link) and the HSNO legislation (NZ Environmental Protection Authority or EPA).

Household poisons

The home is the most contaminated place of all and any chemicals can be found inside the house and accidentally ingested by small children.

Daily exposures to chemicals indoors may cause significant health risks. Major chemical exposures inside the home include volatile organic compounds, lead, radon, carbon monoxide, and those found in household cleaners and carpet.

Volatile chemicals

  • Trichloroethane (spray cans, insulation, spot removers)
  • Tetrachloroethylene (dry-cleaning solutions)
  • Formaldeyhyde (glue, foam, preservatives, plywood, fabrics, insulation)
  • Para-dichlorobenzene (P-DCB) (mothballs, air fresheners)
  • Toluene (solvents, cleaning fluids, wood finishing products)
  • Benzene ( gasoline)
  • Xylene (paints, finishing products)
  • Acetone ( nail polish, removers)
  • Styrene (foam, carpets, adhesives)
  • Carbon tetrachloride (dry cleaning solutions, paint removers)
  • Perchloroethylene (cleaning solvents)

Lead and other heavy metals

Lead is a very toxic chemical; especially to small children. It can cause poisoning that leads to learning disabilities, foetal abnormalities and behavioural problems in children. Lead poisoning in pregnant mothers can cause foetal abnormalities, brain damage and impaired motor skills in babies. Lead is often found in leaded paint (in old houses), pesticides, pottery and china, artist’s paint and products used for hobbies and craft. Also harmful are metals such as mercury and cadmium. Refer to our Lead page for more information

Carbon monoxide

Carbon monoxide (CO) is the most lethal gas produced by a burning heat source. Sources of carbon monoxide are gas heat, fireplaces, or idling cars in the garage.

Household cleaners

The following are commonly found in household cleaners:

  • Chlorine (dishwasher detergents)
  • Ammonia antibacterial cleaning agents)
  • Petroleum ( dish soaps, laundry detergents, floor waxes)


Medicines are one of the most common causes of accidental and intentional (suicide) poisonings. Drugs most commonly involved are aspirins, acetaminophen, sedatives, any psychoactive drug where a patient is more prone to impulsive, suicidal action (e.g. antidepressants), antiseizure drugs, iron pills, vitamins/mineral supplements containing iron, and cardiac drugs, such as digoxin and quinidrine.


  • Dispose of all chemicals properly according to manufacturer’s instructions.
  • Never put household chemicals in food or beverage container.
  • Avoid smoking or lighting a candle near household chemicals such as cleaning solutions, hair spray, paints or paint thinner or pesticides.
  • Only use chemicals in well ventilated areas to avoid breathing in fumes. Use adequate skin, eye and respiratory protection.
  • Keep all chemicals in original containers, properly identified and stored away from foods.
  • Avoid mixing household cleaning products. Non-toxic chemicals when mixed together can release toxic gases or cause explosion.
  • Keep all medications, petroleum products, cleaning products locked and away from small children. Install childproof locks or gates to prevent children from assessing poisons.
  • Avoid toxic chemical exposures as much as possible if you are pregnant.
  • When eating organic foods, wash fruits first before eating them to remove any toxins such as diluted vinegar.
  • Increase ventilation in the house.
  • Limit use of chemicals in the house as much as possible and using natural alternatives, such as baking soda (as cleaner, deodorizer), distilled white vinegar as cleaner, essentials oils (as fragrances), lemon juice (as cleaner), and liquid soaps (as detergents).
  • All chemical containers should be properly labelled and stored according to manufacturer’s instruction.
  • Don’t paint or remodel home while pregnant.
  • Avoid eating contaminated fish especially that which comes from known contaminated areas or a lot of big fish, such as shark, swordfish, or tuna, which tend to contain higher amounts of mercury than smaller fish.