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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:
Under the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms (HSNO) Act (external link) , other agencies also have substantial hazardous substances roles and responsibilities including:
Get additional information about hazardous substances (external link) and the HSNO legislation (NZ Environmental Protection Authority or EPA).
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.
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 (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.
The following are commonly found in household cleaners:
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.