Home  |  Introduction  |  News  |  Manufacturers  |  Application  |  Partners  |  Retailers  |  New Release  |  Safety  |  Product List  |  Contact Us
Vertical CSS (cascading style sheet) Menu
News Release

CONSUMER'S WORLD; Mother Fights to Ruin the Taste of Poison

On March 6, a mother in Oregon watched a public television report about British companies that were discouraging children from eating poisonous household products by lacing them with Bitrex, the world's bitterest flavoring agent.

On March 6, a mother in Oregon watched a public television report about British companies that were discouraging children from eating poisonous household products by lacing them with Bitrex, the world's bitterest flavoring agent.

The woman, Lynn Tylczak, who has two small children and lives in Albany, 60 miles south of Portland, began a letter-writing campaign that is focusing attention on poison prevention. She may also be speeding Bitrex's journey to supermarket shelves in products like detergents, nail-polish removers, rodenticides and antifreeze.

''Mrs. Tylczak has already achieved a certain victory by bringing national attention to this issue,'' said Linda Golodner, executive director of the National Consumers League in Washington. ''She has shown that a single consumer can make a difference.'' Mrs. Tylczak is part of a growing breed that Ralph Nader calls ''citizen activists.'' They are taking companies at their word when they say they want to hear consumer complaints, and they are finding a more receptive atmosphere in board rooms and Washington agencies than in the Reagan years, consumer experts say.

Before Mrs. Tylczak got involved, the American distributor for Bitrex, Henley Chemicals of Montvale, N.J., had little success in promoting the use of the flavoring agent, which is made by Macfarlan Smith Ltd. of Edinburgh. ''Companies aren't stomping down the door to put it in their products,'' said Mitchell J. Tracy, a spokesman for Henley. ''Companies have shown some interest in using Bitrex, but there is some resistance to change and they don't see consumers' demanding it.''

But a half-dozen American companies are trying Bitrex in a few products, he said, adding that it increases manufacturing costs by less than half a cent a quart. Procter & Gamble, for example, adds Bitrex - the brand name for the compound denatonium benzoate - to the liquid laundry detergents Bold and Solo because they contain scents that appeal to children, said Jennifer G. Bailey, a company spokeswoman. Company Acted After Study

''We don't advertise the use of Bitrex because we don't want to communicate the notion that our products are not safe if they don't have Bitrex,'' she added. ''All of our products contain an emetic that would induce vomiting.''

But Procter & Gamble decided to add Bitrex to Bold and Solo after a 1982 study showed that young children who sipped a soapy solution laced with the bittering agent swallowed, on average, less than a half-teaspoonful before rejecting the drink. Children who were offered plain soapy water drank more than a teaspoonful.

The brief news item on the PBS program ''European Journal'' that caught Mrs. Tylczak's attention reported that British companies were adding Bitrex to scores of household products.

''I remember thinking, that sounds like something worth checking into,'' Mrs. Tylczak, a freelance writer, recalled. She spent six days in libraries, carrying her baby in a front pack, doing research on bittering agents and household products. Then she shared the results in letters she sent to dozens of manufacturers and public officials.

As she began getting what she called ''meaningless'' form letters last month, Mrs. Tylczak changed strategy. She and a dozen friends decided to promote Bitrex by starting a nonprofit mail-order business from her home.

The initial plan was to demonstrate consumer demand for Bitrex by selling for $2 enough of the chemical compound to turn 25 quarts of anything into a vile brew. But that idea was dropped this week when Henley told her pure Bitrex was so potent it should be handled only in a laboratory.

She found that to be true. ''I took a tiny taste of Bitrex and my mouth tasted like a place where old spiders go to die,'' she said.

Now she is encouraging manufacturers to add Bitrex to their products by sharing with them letters of support that are sent to her group, the Poison-Proof Project (4384 S.E. Ermine Street, Albany, Ore. 97321). ''If we get a million people writing to us, we could then go to manufacturers and show them that people want to buy products that are safer for kids,'' she said in a telephone interview. 'A Very Promising Area'

Consumer and safety organizations in the United States are beginning to notice. On May 5, the National Safety Council, a 13,000-member public-service organization, called on manufacturers to use Bitrex in all appropriate household products.

''My sense is that this is a very promising area and a very exciting addition to our poison-protection arsenal,'' said Dr. Toby Litovitz, president-elect of the American Association of Poison Control Centers.

Her group estimates that every year, nearly three million children younger than 6 years take a sip, lick or bite of a suspected poisonous substance. Child-resistant closures on drugs and toxic household products have helped reduce deaths from 216 children in 1972, when the Government first required the closures, to 59 in 1986.

But many poisonings still occur when toxic household products are transferred to insecure containers or when adults accidentally leave some within children's reach. Some deadly products, like antifreeze, have sweet tastes; others have pretty colors or perfumed scents. In 1987, cleaning products alone caused 3,100 injuries, 173 life-threatening poisonings and 14 deaths in the United States.

Bitrex was accidentally discovered 30 years ago by scientists at Macfarlan Smith. Until recently, it was used worldwide primarily to denature, or make unpalatable, commercial alcohol. An ounce of Bitrex, a powder with no smell or odor, can render 1,600 gallons of any product undrinkable.

''Bitrex is the most bitter substance known to man,'' according to the Merck Index, an authoritative reference volume on chemicals published by Merck & Company in Rahway, N.J.

In 1982, some British companies began using Bitrex in household products to deter inquisitive children, but the practice did not grow until two years ago, when the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents endorsed its use, Mr. Tracy said.

In the last year, British manufacturers have added Bitrex to about 40 cleaning products. But it has no value in extremely toxic or corrosive household products, like drain and oven cleaners, that cause injuries instantly.

The British companies are acting voluntarily, Mr. Tracy said, but West Germany requires Bitrex in windshield washes, Australia requires it in antifreeze and Japan in imported herbicides. READY TO STAND UP

It isn't unusual for Lynn Tylczak to immerse herself in a cause like poison prevention. Her husband Joseph, a metallurgist, says she is always taking on consumer causes.

''I don't know law, but I know what's fair,'' she said. ''If I see something that bothers me, I write letters, lots of letters.''

Last year, she discovered that tax assessments varied by up to 300 percent for identical lots in the development where she and her family live. After she brought it to the attention of ''CBS Morning News,'' the town re-evaluated the assessments and the assessor lost the November election.

Last spring, her son, Erik, wanted to build a vehicle that was pictured on a Tinker Toy label, but the wheels shown on the label were not included in the set. She complained to Playskool, the manufacturer.

The company sent its largest set, which included the wheels, and an apologetic letter. The company says it is changing the label.

Published: May 20, 1989

Where is Bitrex used ?