in which the nature of the offending agent is unknown and could be an infectious agent or a chemical. In this case, the public, health care professionals, and public health agencies may all access the poison control center for information (Geller and Lopez, 1999).
Poison control centers may contract with industry to provide poisoning information to the public and health care providers for a specific commercial product or group of products. For example, the toll-free number listed on a commercial product for information about poisoning may be answered by center staff, usually through a separate, dedicated telephone line. Summary information regarding the number, types, and outcomes of these exposures can assist companies with reporting requirements regarding adverse events associated with their products and guide reduction of the hazard. Poison control centers may also contract to provide material safety data sheets needed by an employer (Krenzelok and Dean, 1988). The number and extent of poison control center contracts with industry is not well documented.
Data collection and reporting are critical activities of poison control centers. This topic is examined in detail in Chapter 7 along with the contribution of other data sources in developing an overall understanding of poisonings in the United States.
Poison control centers currently report all exposure data to the TESS database (Watson et al., 2003). These data are used to document the spectrum of exposures causing poisonings and their consequences. While this database represents only the fraction of all exposures that generate calls to centers (Blanc et al., 1995), the data may be used to identify trends and potential targets for education, surveillance, public health measures, or research. This type of database represents a unique opportunity to collect detailed data regarding certain types of poisoning exposures.
Sentinel events are initial cases or events indicating a more widespread problem. Poison control centers, because of their telephone con-