Mommy Minute: Slime craze creating glue shortage. Is it safe?

Rachel and Rebecca Haas admit they’re a bit obsessed.

“I like to play with it because you can make it smell nice,” Rebecca said. “You can make it soft and it feels nice.”

“I like to show it to my friends and then we play with it,” Rachel said.

It is slime. It’s a homemade science experiment that turns household ingredients like glue and borax into a stretchy, squishy creation.

“When I’m doing homework or working on the computer, I just like to hold it and squish it in my hand and poke it,” Rachel said. “It’s really relaxing, actually.”

The girls make it every day and have even tried to sell it in their Lower Paxton Township neighborhood.

They add glitter, styrofoam balls, scents and colors. Finding all of the ingredients, especially the glue, is often the biggest challenge.

“It’s flying off the shelves everywhere,” Rachel said. “We’ve gone to so many stores and the shelves are completely empty without glue. We always say nobody’s using glue for its intended purpose anymore.”

“It’s funny to walk into a school supply section well after school has started and see empty shelves with no glue,” father Michael Haas said. “It’s an eye-opener.”

Michael Haas doesn’t mind going on the hunt for glue every so often. He says the girls have bonded over their love of slime and it’s teaching them a lesson in chemistry.

“It gives them a practical outlet where they can be creative,” he said, “and it’s really not that expensive.”

But many parents wonder: is it safe?

Dr. Aaron George, a family physician for Summit Primary Care, offered the following advice.

“When it comes to kids arts and crafts projects, it is so important for parents to remember that just because something is sold over the counter doesn’t mean it is safe. And as with any experiments or use of chemicals or compounds, these are really done best under guided parental supervision.

The key for parents to realize is that many of the chemical compounds used in making “slime” can be an irritant or toxic if not handled appropriately. One such compound is borax, a chemical cousin to boron. This is used in many household cleaners, so parents should keep this in mind the next time they have their children dipping their hands in gooped-up slime. When diluted appropriately, however, borax has the same Materials Safety Data Sheet rating as baking soda or salt.

However, it should never be ingested directly, and because of its alkalinity, it can cause some irritation if touched directly at higher concentrations.  Therefore, the American Chemical Society has a recipe for slime that includes diluting 1/4 teaspoon of borax into one tablespoon of water. This should be safe if done under parental supervision.”

Dr. Joan Thode of Lancaster General Health Physicians Roseville Pediatrics also weighed in on the issue.

“Borax is safe when handled with intact skin, though it can be dangerous when it is allowed inside the body via oral ingestion, inhalation or through broken skin.

The lethal dose of borax is oral ingestion of 2-3 grams in an infant, 5-6 grams in a child and 15-20 grams in an adult. It would be pretty impossible to get that amount of straight borax into an open wound or the lungs, so for the risk of death, oral ingestion is really the only exposure venue.

The signs of borax poisoning include severe vomiting and diarrhea, seizures and intense abdominal pain. If not dealt with, the person’s blood pressure can drop to a critically low level and death can occur. The very basic (opposite of acidic) nature of the borax compound can also cause burns of the lining of the mouth and esophagus.

If borax gets into a cut or “non-intact skin,” it can get into the bloodstream and cause non-lethal side effects of abdominal pain, headache or even localized twitches or focal seizures, depending on the person’s age and amount of exposure.

If chronically exposed to borax dust (which children making slime every so often would not be exposed to) or if borax has frequent contact with the skin, there can be irritation to the skin or to the airway, causing a rash or a cough.

The typical online slime recipes call for one teaspoon of borax to be mixed into one cup of water with added glue to create a pile of slime that would fill an adult human’s hand. One teaspoon of borax contains about nine grams of borax, so to have an actual toxic effect of the slime, a child would have to actually eat a handful of the goop. If a young child licked the slime, it would not be a problem. Simply playing with it (provided the child doesn’t have broken skin on their hands or a raging eczema flare, etc.) poses no risk of body-wide effects of borax. It doesn’t go through intact skin.

So my bottom line would be this:

1) Experiment with slime only with kids who are old enough to respect the ingredients such that there would be no oral ingestion of the borax or the slime. Don’t use more than one teaspoon of borax in a one-cup aliquot of the slime.

2) Don’t make slime near a young child or infant who might be tempted to ingest the borax or the slime.

3) Don’t mix the slime in a bowl that is used for food, to avoid the possibility of borax ingestion.

4) Keep borax in a high cabinet (Don’t rely on the child locks on low cabinets.)

5) If you notice skin irritation or any other symptoms, wash the skin with soap and water, and let your pediatrician know.”

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