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Despite substantial efforts in recent years to highlight the potential risks associated with allowing children to access single-load detergent packs, new research indicates that the number of laundry pod poisoning cases continue to rise each year, causing thousands of children to suffer illnesses after exposure.
In a study published in the May issue of the medical journal Pediatrics, researchers examined reports from the National Poisoning Data System and found at least 62,254 cases involving children under the age of six who were exposed to laundry and dishwasher detergents from 2013 to 2014.
Children exposed to laundry packets were four to eight times more likely to become ill and experience problems, compared to dish washer pods. The laundry detergent packets were the fastest growing vector of exposure, followed by dishwasher packets, according to the findings.
Most of the children were poisoned via ingestion, after biting on the brightly colored pods or placing them in the mouth. In many cases of detergent pod exposure, children or disabled adults mistake the packets for teething toys or candy.
Despite substantial efforts by federal regulators and consumer advocacy groups to reduce the risk of laundry pod poisonings in recent years, 2015 saw the highest number of reports in any one year on record.
Given the concentrated nature of the laundry detergent contained in the packets, ingesting the liquid may cause a severe and potentially life-threatening poisoning injury.
Children who get the laundry detergent in their mouths may experience excessive vomiting, gasping, fatigue, breathing problems, and the effects can be fatal. There have also been reports of corneal abrasions when the detergent has made contact with the eyes, and skin irritation problems after exposure to the contents of the packets.
According to the findings of the new study, 35.4% of exposures were due to laundry detergent packets, and 24.2% were due to dishwasher detergent packets. While exposure does not automatically mean that the children were poisoned, the study found that 43.5% of all exposures had at least one clinical effect. The most common effect was vomiting.
Researchers found that children who were exposed to laundry detergent pods were about 3.9 to 8.2 times more likely to become ill.
“The odds of clinical effects, hospitalization, intubation, and serious medical outcomes were significantly higher for laundry detergent packet exposures than for other types of detergent,” the researchers noted. “There were 117 children who required intubation, and 104 of these were exposed to laundry detergent packets. There were 2 deaths, and both were associated with laundry detergent packets.”
The study suggests that the formulation and concentrations used in laundry detergent pods likely accounts for the higher rates of illness from exposure.
The rate of exposures have continued to climb since the 2013-2014 numbers. From January 1 to March 31 of this year alone, the American Association of Poison Control Centers (AAPCC) reports that there were 2,840 exposures to laundry detergent packets among children under the age of six.
A number of laundry pod exposure lawsuits have been filed against various manufacturers of the products, alleging that inadequate steps were taken to ensure the safety of the products. The claims allege that stronger warnings should have been provided about the importance of keeping the pods out of the reach of children, and that individual packaging for the pods would reduce the risk of injury.
The AAPC advises parents to be aware of the risks with laundry detergent containers, and to call their local poison center at (800) 222-1222 if a child has come into contact with the contents of a laundry pod.