Babies developed blisters, swelling after touching disinfected shopping carts, Manitoba moms say

Three Manitoba mothers are warning other parents about letting their children near shopping carts that have been sanitized with disinfecting chemicals, after they say their babies developed blisters, rashes and swelling from touching carts at a grocery store this month.

Ashley Cochrane of Grandview, Man., was shopping at the Dauphin Co-op on May 16, and put her one-year-old son, Benjamin Lukey, in a shopping cart.

“About half an hour after we had left the store, I noticed his legs getting quite red.… That night he would not go to sleep because he was in so much pain,” she told CBC News.

“His legs actually started to blister and they were like that for about two days.”

Cochrane, and some other moms, believe the chemicals that stores are using to disinfect carts and baskets during the COVID-19 pandemic are harmful for children with sensitive skin.

Beth Rempel says her son, Pace, developed a reaction after touching a shopping cart at the Co-op in Dauphin, about 250 kilometres northwest of Winnipeg, on May 12.

Jocelyn Prokopowich believes her baby daughter, Ariella, was burned by a harsh disinfectant when she was sitting in a shopping cart. (Submitted by Jocelyn Prokopowich)

She says she kissed his hand after he got it caught in a cart, and her lips and tongue became numb and tingly. 

After rubbing his eyes, he began to get fussy, she recalled.

“I had to carry him with me because he was crying and crying and screaming… By the time we got to the till, all around his eyes were all puffed up and red. The inside of his eyes were starting to look bloodshot,” she said.

Rempel says her family doctor happened to be shopping at the same time, and quickly examined Pace. They wiped his hands and face with a wet cloth, which seemed to help.

The mother of three says she knows store workers are just trying to keep the store clean, but says she’s being much more careful to keep her son away from carts that may have been cleaned with harsh chemicals.

“I did go in this past Monday and I just carried the baby the whole time. I didn’t put him in the cart at all and I washed my hands with water afterwards,” she said.

Beth Rempel says her son, Pace, developed an eye irritation after touching a disinfected shopping cart earlier this month. She says his eyes became red, swollen and bloodshot. (Submitted by Beth Rempel)

Jocelyn Prokopowich says her daughter, Ariella Anderson, developed a skin rash on her leg last week on a trip to the Co-op, even though she used a cart cover to protect her.

“She suddenly got fussy in the store and wanted to be picked up. She was screaming before bed and during bath time,” said Prokopowich.

“It’s really heartbreaking for me as a parent because, essentially, I didn’t do anything wrong. I took her into a store to get milk and bananas for her to eat the next day and she got burned.”

The mothers all say they’ll take greater precautions from now on, but they also want to spread the word.

“I would just like other parents to be advised and not put their babies in there with bare skin,” said Cochrane.

Prokopowich says she wants grocery stores to use less-irritating cleaner.

“I do understand that it is to protect everybody and kill this virus, but there should be another way to do it where you’re not going to get a chemical burn from it,” she said.

Cam Zimmer, the communications and public relations manager for Federated Co-op, told CBC News in an emailed statement that Co-op stores across the country are working to ensure facilities are cleaned regularly and that they’re all using Health Canada-approved cleaners.

“Like all sanitizers and disinfectants, there can be sensitivities to the chemicals and solutions used,” Zimmer said.

“We always want to know when Co-op customers and members have a concern and appreciate that these concerns were raised.”

Grocery stores all over the country are scrambling to keep shopping carts clean to prevent the spread of COVID-19. (Maria José Burgos/CBC)

The problem appears to be widespread.

CBC News found numerous reports on social media of skin irritations and burns from chemicals used to clean carts at different retailers across North America.

More calls to poison control centres

Over the last few months, with many increasing their cleaning to try to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, more people have been calling into Canada’s poison control centres, according to Health Canada.

The federal government and the five regional poison centres from across the country have been working together to analyze the numbers of poison centre calls related to exposures to cleaning products since the start of the year.

That research indicates calls to regional poison centres in April were more than double the number from January. During the first month of the year, there were roughly 500 calls for exposure to cleaning products like bleach, hand sanitizer and disinfectant, according to data emailed to CBC from Health Canada on Wednesday.

In April, though, there were over 1,000 calls across the country, nearly half of which were related to bleach.

Manitoba Health told CBC News in an emailed statement that it’s not aware of an increase in injuries like rashes and chemical burns, but says it advises businesses to use cleaning products that are approved by Health Canada.

More people are poisoning themselves during the COVID-19 pandemic by mixing the wrong combination of chemicals or accidentally ingesting them. 1:54

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