Minutes after classes let out on March 12, the Los Gatos-Monte Sereno Police Department dispatcher received an urgent call: A male juvenile lay unconscious, just around the corner from Los Gatos High School.
By the time fire trucks and EMTs arrived at the scene, the teen was awake but verbally and physically combative. Before being transported to the hospital by ambulance, he and his companion were cited for being in possession of an intoxicant.
The cause of the emergency was nearly as chilling as the result: The youth and his friend hadn’t been drinking, smoking marijuana or ingesting any of the better-known substances. Instead, the two friends had been “huffing” (inhaling) a can of aerosol computer cleaner–a solution found in virtually any store selling office supplies.
Why sniff a substance normally employed to clean keyboards? The key is its ingredient, toluene, a clear, colorless liquid used as a solvent. Toluene can be found in gasoline, paint thinners, fingernail polish, antifreeze and countless other highly toxic items. Inhaling the substance results in slurred speech, disorientation and other symptoms associated with intoxication.
Repeated exposure to toluene can cause permanent brain damage, depression or death; inhaling the substance during pregnancy increases the risk of damage to the fetus.