Are you concerned about the toxicity and cancer causing potential of dihydrogen monoxide, also known as DHMO? What? Toxic?! Cancer causing potential?! GASP! If you have not heard of this substance, arm yourself with information at www.dhmo.org!
The website goes into great detail describing the vast dangers, horrifying hazards, common concerns, and shocking conspiracies surrounding DHMO and how public opinion has swayed toward a complete and total ban on this substance. Ok, ok, we’re just pulling your leg. Even though the DHMO website exists, it is a spoof of the “perceived toxicity” of plain old H2O or water!
So, what’s this got to do with poison control or toxicology anyway?
It just so happens that product information may contain ingredient listings which are designed to disguise the names of common substances, generally referred to by simpler names. Here are some examples of what we’re talking about:
- A recent caller to the IPC was inquiring about a nutritional supplement intended to raise energy and improve athletic performance. She was asked if the label listed any caffeine, to which she replied no. However, the label of the product did list 1,3,7-trimethylxanthine, which is the chemical name for caffeine.
The poison center contacted a manufacturer of an antifreeze designed for plumbing systems in mobile homes. The company representative replied that it was “a sodium-based chloride solution.” This sophisticated-sounding substance turned out to be salt water.
- Labels sometimes list the primary component as “2-propanol,” which simply is isopropyl alcohol or rubbing alcohol.
- Some labels will list “dimethyl ketone” as an ingredient. Most people would recognize the more commonly used name of acetone, which is the major ingredient in most nail-polish removers.
- Sometimes products sound a lot fancier than they actually are. Have you ever heard of the product Ricinus communis oil? It’s actually just castor oil.
- There are many products on the market which claim to support your body’s immune system. The main ingredient in many of them is ascorbic acid, or simply Vitamin C.
Oftentimes, terminology is made more complicated than it needs to be, perhaps meant to mislead a consumer into believing a product is actually new, different, or works better than something we already know. Like a fish, many people are hooked on the complicated wording and we are pulled to buy the product on the notion that it “sounds” scientific or newly developed or improved. At times our minds think that newer is better, scientific more complicated discovery is more researched (and maybe safer), and a fancier name means it’s special. However, in reality it contains the same ingredients as the more boring sounding, generic, simplistic terminology but simply listed under a different name. It’s like saying “a spacious, vintage apartment with an atmosphere that accentuates social interaction and a sense of refinement” when describing a cramped studio apartment with a window and running water and five year old paint. Terminology can have quite an effect on one’s perception.
We’re not advocating that you become a chemist or toxicologist, but simply to be aware of what the label actually says and be able to interpret what that means. And if you can’t figure out what the ingredient is, especially when you have a legitimate safety question or potential poisoning emergency, that’s ok! If you are ever unsure, always feel comfortable in calling the experts staffing the Illinois Poison Center 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. We will do our best to help you figure out what it is!