Toxicity from automotive screenwashes reported to the United Kingdom National Poisons Information Service (NPIS) from 2012 to 2015

Rachael Day, Michael Eddleston, Simon H L Thomas, John P Thompson, Sally M Bradberry, J Allister Vale

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


BACKGROUND: Automotive screenwashes commonly contain ethylene glycol, methanol, and/or isopropanol; ethanol is also included in many formulations. The concentrations and combinations of each constituent vary considerably between the products. This study was undertaken to investigate the toxicity of automotive screenwashes as reported by telephone to the United Kingdom National Poisons Information Service (NPIS).

METHODS: Enquiries to the NPIS relating to automotive screenwashes were analyzed retrospectively for the period January 2012 to December 2015.

RESULTS: There were 295 enquiries involving 255 individual exposures. The majority (n = 241, 94.5%) of exposures involved ingestion and 14 of these also involved other routes. Six cases were due to skin contact alone, three to inhalation alone, three to eye contact alone, one to ear exposure alone and another occurred from inhalation and skin contact. Children below 5 years of age accounted for 26% of all ingestions. The identity (and therefore composition) of the screenwash was known with certainty in 124 of 241 ingestions and included methanol in 106 formulations, isopropanol in 72, ethylene glycol in 38, and ethanol in 104. The World Health Organisation/International Programme on Chemical Safety/European Commission/European Association of Poison Centres and Clinical Toxicologists Poisoning Severity Score was known in 235 of 241 cases of ingestion: most patients were asymptomatic (n = 169, 71.9%), but 59 (25.1%) developed minor (PSS 1), six (2.6%) moderate (PSS 2), and one patient severe (PSS 3) features; this patient later died. Nausea (n = 10), vomiting (n = 11), abdominal pain (n = 10), metabolic acidosis (n = 8) and raised anion gap (n = 8) were reported most commonly after ingestion.

CONCLUSIONS: Most patients (71.9%) ingesting automotive screenwash did not develop features. The implication is that the amount of screenwash ingested was very small. Skin and eye exposure produced either no features or only minor toxicity.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)221-226
Number of pages6
JournalClinical Toxicology
Issue number3
Early online date13 Jan 2017
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2017


  • 2-Propanol
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Ethanol
  • Ethylene Glycol
  • Humans
  • Methanol
  • Middle Aged
  • Poison Control Centers
  • Poisoning
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • United Kingdom
  • Young Adult
  • Journal Article


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