It’s the first weekend of summer and as the sun goes down on many backyard picnics, Iowans will light those bamboo tiki torches. Joan McVoy, a registered nurse and an expert in poisons, urges people to use caution with those torches, as the fuel may resemble a popular beverage.
“It looks really similar to a big jug of apple juice,” McVoy says. “What’s happened in the past, every year, someone puts it in the refrigerator and they think it’s apple juice and then they serve it up to the kids. Or else, since it is such a big container, people will put it into another container, like a cup, and then try to pour it into the tiki torch.” McVoy says the fluid is a hydrocarbon — which is similar to lamp oil or gasoline — and it’s bad news if it’s swallowed.
“You’re going to have some burping and belching and all those fumes that you burp up are flammable,” McVoy says. “What happens is when people start to swallow, it tastes really bad, like kerosene and they aspirate and it gets down into their lungs. Once that happens, it coats the lungs and they can’t exchange oxygen very well so they get symptoms like coughing, difficulty breathing, chest tightness.”
McVoy says the torch fuel, and all dangerous chemicals, need to be kept in their original containers and out of the reach of children, away from food and preferably in a locked cabinet. The Iowa Poison Center hotline is 800-222-1222.
By Karla James