March 19, 2008

Are Glow-Sticks toxic?!?

MSDS = Material Safety Data Sheets

I learned about MSDS during an on-job training at my first job in high school, the brutal, dangerous environment aka McDonalds. I got splattered with oil and I burned myself more often than not (not seriously, mind you) working at the grill. When I found myself a nicer summer job at the YMCA as a camp counselor, I jumped at the chance. How cool is that, to get paid to play with kids and have fun?

It turned out to be more work than I imagined. My relationship with the kids had to swing from the Fun Guy to the Enforcer on a dime. The trouble-kids always became the ones I was most fond of at the end of the program... perhaps it was just a consequence of spending so much one on one time with them. I remember one kid had a glow stick in his mouth (for some reason) and he freaked out because it broke and he swallowed some of it. "Oh don't worry... it's probably non-toxic. I'll take you to the supervisor and we can check that. For some reason, I was under the impression that the MSDS sheets at the YMCA would have facts about glow in the dark chemicals. My supervisor gave me this weird look when I brought him in and said "what... are... you... talking about?" She was only a few years older than me, but she had mastered the ability to talk down to someone that stood almost a foot above her (taking some poetic license here.)

Still, that incident stuck with me. What IS the effect of glow stick stuff on the GI tract?

Tonight, the answer is solved, thanks to ToxNet, a resource brought to my attention by the Health Sciences Library.
Most incidences of exposure to chemiluminescent products involve asymptomatic ingestion of fluid that leaks from glow sticks or ingestion of an intact glow stick. Symptoms occur after exposure to chemiluminescent fluid and consist of transient irritation at the site of exposure.

Figures... went along with my instincts. Perhaps I'm revealing my level of hidden neuroses, but my mind feels more at ease knowing the easy way to find the answer to these questions. All I had to do was go to ToxNet and type in "glow stick" into the search box.

More and more, knowing random trivia bits will come from knowing WHERE to look... not necessarily just Knowing. The internet is very two-faced though. For every bit of information out there, there's 10x more garbage (growing day by day) Everyone should begin acquiring their set of reliable fact-checker bookmarks (like to combat these sorts of things.

References: Hoffman, RJ. Pediatric and young adult exposure to chemiluminescent glow sticks. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2002, Sep; 156(9):901-4.


  1. when i was in high school, one of my classmates had a full leg cast, and i heard a story about how one night, they covered the whole thing with the fluids from big glow sticks so that the whole cast was glowing, and she was very itchy from the fluids afterwards but was otherwise ok. just thought i'd share.

  2. a friend of mine broke a couple glow sticks to see what was inside them. he used the chemical to write on his forhead. the next day he found a rash on his face... haha. it was pretty neat to have glow in the dark writing on his face... but i think he learned his lesson from the rash.

  3. As far as I know they should not be toxic...

  4. the most common ingredient is rated as "high hazard":

  5. Well, DO NOT EAT them! But I think you can sleep with glow sticks without hurting yourself. - Glowstick