A tragic death in an Oklahoma national park underscores the need to be extra careful with hazardous materials when camping with children.
On June 9, a two-year old child died of suspected citronella oil poisoning after being rushed to Arbuckle Memorial Hospital in Sulphur, Oklahoma. The child’s family had been camping at Chickasaw National Recreation Area. After seeing the child holding a container of citronella oil fuel, the parents called the poison control center and took the child to the hospital. But it was too late. The youngster died just a few hours later.
Citronella oil, a common fuel for insect-repelling torches and lanterns (aka tiki torches, patio lanterns, or bug lanterns), can be acutely toxic. Natural citronella is used to make perfumes and other expensive aromatics, but the lantern fuel variety is typically synthesized from turpentine. The toxicology of this stuff is pretty ominous. When aspirated into the lungs, citronella oil fuel coats delicate tissues with toxic vapors, causes chemical pneumonia, and can trigger fatal pulmonary arrest. As this incident illustrates, it is especially dangerous when ingested by small children.
This tragedy underscores the need for campers to be extra careful to keep lantern fuel, charcoal lighter, cleaning fluids, and other hazardous materials out of the reach of small children.