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Pontifications on Poison

Being some ramblings on events associated with poisonous plants.

Tuesday 1st November 2011

I wrote, yesterday, about the obsession with the possibility that Halloween ‘treats’ may be poisoned when the greater dangers of Halloween lie in other areas like choking on small toys or being knocked down on the road.

Now, today, comes another story that you would have thought should be more in the public consciousness because it involves actual deaths in young children. The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (ROSPA) believes that at least 18 children have died, in the UK since 1999, as a result of accidental strangulation by the cords on window blinds.

ROSPA has been campaigning since 2004 for the design of blinds to be changed to prevent these accidents and, in 2012, the relevant European standard will be amended to make such accidents less likely. The standard, EN13120, has been amended before but, just yesterday, the Herald in Scotland reported that around one quarter of retailers were still selling blinds that did not conform to EN13120.

A particularly worrying aspect of the story is that ROSPA says there have been 7 deaths since the beginning of 2010 so, in spite of the publicity to date and the changes made to blind designs, it looks possible that the problem is getting worse not better.

I thought I would do some simple, though highly unscientific research. Using the Google News archive for the period 1st January 2010 to date I searched for ‘blinds strangulation’, ‘blinds death’ and ‘plant poison’.

‘Blinds strangulation’ returned 71 results for the period, ‘blinds death’ gave 381 but ‘plant poison’ produced 1,310 articles. These are news results not web pages though web page results do show a similar difference in the relative results.

I also double-checked to confirm that there have been no reported deaths of children due to accidental plant poisoning in the UK in the last 22 months. In fact, I couldn’t find any reported deaths, adult or children, in the UK and no child deaths indexed by Google from anywhere in the world.

As I said, I don’t claim to have made a scientific study but it does seem pretty clear that choking on the chords of window blinds is a much more real danger for young children than eating enough of a poisonous plant for the effects to be lethal.

It’s a reinforcement of the answer I give to people concerned about having poisonous plants in the garden when young children are also present. If children aren’t old enough to understand danger and avoid it then the parent or responsible adult must make every effort to keep them away from danger wherever it may be. But, as soon as children are capable of understanding danger then they must be taught about it because you cannot hope to keep them away from danger for all of their lives.

Having poisonous plants in the garden may actually be a help in getting young children to better understand the world around them.