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Safety Articles - Paraffin Oil Lamps - A.P. Article

Passover Oil Lamps Pose Risk to Children
by: Verena Dobnik
Associated Press - April 03, 2004

NEW YORK — As Jewish families prepare for Passover, their toddlers face a newly discovered danger: poisoning from the lamp oil that lights up their holy days, according to a study released this month.

The risk of paraffin oil poisoning among Orthodox children in New York is about 370 times higher than in the general population, according to the study, published in this month's issue of the journal Pediatrics.

``The lamps have a metal tube that serves as a wick. And when the lamp is not lit, the tube looks like a perfect straw to a child,'' said Dr. Robert J. Hoffman of Manhattan's Beth Israel Medical Center, who led the study.

Hoffman noticed that on many Fridays when he worked for the city's Poison Control Center, urgent calls came in for children who had swallowed the oil.

``It turned out they were Jewish,'' Hoffman said, ``and the accident often happened during Sabbath,'' from sunset Friday until sunset Saturday, or on Jewish holidays like Passover, which this year begins on Monday.

In addition to the lamp itself, the plastic nozzle of the container from which the oil is poured poses an equal danger of being mistaken for a straw.

The oil can trigger coughing, vomiting, inflammation of the lungs and lethargy, Hoffman said. One girl had to be put on a respirator for weeks.

Hoffman and three other researchers reviewed all exposures to paraffin lamp oil reported in New York between Jan. 1, 2000, and Feb. 1, 2003, among the almost 2 million city children under 18. More than 40,000 of those are Orthodox Jews.

Of a total of 45 cases of oil poisoning, 32 involved Orthodox Jewish children whose average age was under 2. Nine of the 45 children could not be identified by religion.

None died, but most had to receive medical treatment.

In Jewish tradition, bread, wine and a burning flame mark the observation of holy days.

``There are non-Jews who use paraffin lamp oil, but some Jews use the oil religiously every week and therefore, their children are in greater danger.'' said Hoffman.

According to the United Jewish Appeal - Federation of New York, almost 200,000 New Yorkers are strictly Orthodox, the largest such population outside Israel. Other areas with significant Orthodox populations include Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami and Toronto.

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