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A good idea in bad taste.

Lynn Tylczak is taking the concept of Mr. Yuck Mouth one step further. For decades, mothers put quinine on their children's thumbs and fingers to stop thumb sucking and nail biting. Lynn Tylczak wants to use that same principle to make poisonous household products repulsive to taste.

The sweet tastes, fragrant aromas, and pretty colors of chemicals lure nearly 3 million preschool children each year into swallowing poisonous detergents, antifreezes, and windshield solvents, to name just a few.

But what could a freelance writer, housewife, and mother of two small children, living in the little Oregon town of Albany, do about it? For one thing, she could write letters to the manufacturers, pleading with them to make their products so repulsive to taste that kids would spew them out before harm was done.

The idea was not hers. Tylczak had seen a PBS program, "European Journal," that reported British companies were adding Bitrex, the world's best-known bittering agent, to scores of household products. The idea, however, was right down Lynn Tylczak's alley.

Her alley is already lined with victory flags from other consumer causes-unequal tax assessment and Tinker Toy sets packaged without wheels, to name two.

"I don't know law, but I know what is fair," Tylczak says. "If I see something that bothers me, I write letters. Lots of letters."

In this case, before she wrote letters to the manufacturers of poisonous products, Tylczak did her homework at the Oregon State University Library. With her four-month-old baby in a front pack, her five-year-old son at one hand, and a notebook in the other, Tylczak researched her targeted chemical companies and other possible bittering agents. She took her commitment to research so personally that she gritted her teeth and made the ultimate taste test: a small sip of Bitrex.

It tasted "like the place where old spiders go to die. And I had it diluted too," she says. "I couldn't get the taste out of my mouth. The only antidote was chocolate."

After arming herself with corporate addresses, Tylczak began sending letters to chemical companies. Where the letters went once they arrived is anybody's guess. Tylczak guesses they went directly to the shredder, be- cause they evoked not a single response.

Not one to be daunted easi- . ly, this "citizen activist," as Ralph Nader has labeled her breed, decided to direct her letters to the consumers.

"Recruiting volunteer letter writers was easy," she says. "Albany is a small town, and people are always looking for something to do."

Although the Tylczaks' in- come did not easily accommo- date the added expense, the letters to consumers began going out. "My husband is very supportive," she says. "To pay for the postage, we cut back on our visits to McDonald's. I don't know as McDonald's would be too happy knowing about that."

The letters had two purposes: to garner letters of support from other consumers and to promote the sale of Bitrex to those consumers through a nonprofit organization in Lynn Tylczak's own home. For only two dollars, Poison-Proof Products (PPP) would send enough Bitrex to make 25 gallons of any liquid taste repulsive to even the most curious taste buds. This project went down the drain, however, when the Henley Chemical Company warned that Bitrex should be handled only in a laboratory.

But the consumer response to the PPP letters was "Incredible! -from all over the country," Tylczak says, and it spurred her on, Many letter writers were from grandparents, who, having trouble opening the original childproof containers, would pour a poisonous substance into perhaps a soft-drink bottle or a container of equally innocent appearance. One grandfather wrote that he turned his back only for a moment, and when he looked around, his little grandson was drinking brush killer.

Armed with hundreds of these missives demonstrating consumer demand for Bitrex, Lynn Tylczak's letters again began invading the inboxes of the manufacturers. For only one-half cent per quart, she told them, Bitrex could be added to their potentially harmful, and sometimes lethal, products.

And this time the manufacturers took notice. So did the "Today" show, on which she was interviewed by Jane Pauley this past Memorial Day.

The chemical companies have not embraced Tylczak's suggestions with enthusiasm, but a few have reacted favorably to consumer demand. Proctor & Gamble, for example, is now adding Bitrex to its liquid laundry detergents Bold and Solo, making them "old spider burial grounds."

Currently, Bitrex is being added to about 40 British cleaning products. West Germany requires the bitter substance to be added to windshield washes. In Japan Bitrex goes into herbicides. Antifreeze in Australia contains it as well.

"In this country the whole thing may blow over in a few weeks," Tylczak modestly speculates.

But Linda Golodner, executive director of the National Consumer's League, says, "Lynn Tylczak has received a certain victory by bringing national attention to this issue. She has also proved that one consumer can make a difference."
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Title Annotation:Lynn Tylczak wants household poisons to be made repulsive to taste
Author:Stoddard, Maynard Good
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Date:Sep 1, 1989
Previous Article:Are you an innumerate?
Next Article:The rush-rush routine of Charles and Diana.

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