Solvent abuse in the spotlight

When one considers the term ‘death by drugs’, the first thought that springs to mind is heroin, cocaine or marijuana. But would you ever consider deodorant bottles and lighter fuel? Solvent abuse is responsible for as many deaths as ecstasy, yet it doesn’t get the same press coverage.

The products to be aware of include: butane gas cigarette lighter refills, liquefied domestic gas, solvent-based adhesives, deodorant aerosols, pain relief sprays, aerosol air fresheners, hairspray, other aerosols, some correction fluids, petrol, certain paints, paint thinners and removers, dry cleaning agents, petrol lighter fuel, nail varnish and varnish remover, some shoe and metal polish and plaster remover.

Sniffing solvents may cause intoxication similar to the effects of alcohol. So a sniffer may become drowsy, confused, aggressive and may take more risks than they would when sober. Accidents are, therefore, quite common and sometimes fatal. Over half of the deaths that have been linked to solvent sniffing appear to result from the direct toxic effects of the chemicals that were sniffed. But other deaths result from accidents, choking on vomit or suffocation.

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Doing something about it

The National Adhesive and Sealant Manufacturers Association (NASMA) recently held a workshop at the Randpark Golf Club in Johannesburg to discuss the effects of solvent abuse in South Africa.

Roughly 75% of adhesive manufacturers are members of NASMA and those attending included representatives from Henkel, Permoseal, Genkem and Sika. At the workshop, it was highlighted that those companies belonging to the association have made big strides to lower the toxin levels of their products and that glue was the preferred product associated with solvent abuse in South Africa, especially when street children are involved.

David Hughes, managing director of Genkem, gave those attending an overview of the problem in South Africa and highlighted the fact that solvent abuse is mainly done to experiment, due to peer pressure, through boredom or as a means to cope with social ills.

How do we do it?

After the presentation, the floor was open for questions and ideas to be thrown around and some interesting points were made to combat solvent abuse:
Legislation which will prohibited the sale of solvent-based products to minors (under-18s).
Solvent-based products should be kept under lock and key.
Labeling of solvent-based products to indicate the dangers, similar to what is happening with cigarettes.
Make those manufacturers who do not conform aware of the effects of their products.
Involvement from government departments: the Department of Health and the Department of Industry.

It was clear from the discussions that some ideas are easier to implement than others and that there is no clear short-term solution to the problem that the South African youth face. It was also brought to the attention of those attending that legislation can take decades before it is approved and that the only short-term solution will be for retailers and manufacturers to act as socially responsible as humanly possible.

Thus, when you see a child buying a solvent-based product and you or your staff suspect it might be used for something other than adhesion, do the right thing and refuse the sale. You might be saving a life.