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Laundry Detergent Pods Pose Poisoning Risk for Young Children, Study Finds

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From 2012 through 2013, more than 17,000 children in the United States swallowed, inhaled or were otherwise exposed to dangerous chemicals in laundry detergent pods, according the findings of a new study that highlight the serious and potentially life-threatening risks posed by the popular, single-use packets.

Researchers from the Nationwide Children’s Hospital published a study in the medical journal Pediatrics on November 10, which warns about the risk laundry detergent pod poisoning, which can occur when children bite on or play with the brightly colored packets, which often resemble teething toys or candy.

The study indicates that almost one child per day is hospitalized due to laundry pod exposure.

Researchers used data from the National Poison Data System to find exposures to laundry detergent pods among children under the age of six from 2012 to 2013. At least 17,230 exposures were identified, which resulted in 769 children being hospitalized and at least one death from laundry detergent poisoning.

Most of the exposures were due to ingestion, with two-thirds of the cases involving children two years old or younger.

Also known as detergent pods or capsules, the laundry packets have been introduced by a number of different manufacturers in recent years, containing the detergent in small, colorful, soft plastic packs that dissolve in the washing machine.

Sold under brand names like Tide Pods, All Mighty Pacs, Purex UltraPacks and others, the laundry packets often resemble infant chew toys or candy, and are sometimes sold in containers or bags similar to child snack foods.

Due to the stronger concentration of the detergent, exposure to the laundry packs pose a much more serious health risk for infants and young children.

Researchers indicate that the most common side effect seen among children exposed to laundry detergent pods was vomiting, which occurred in 48% of the cases. However, other risks included respiratory issues, choking, vision issues and potentially life-threatening health problems.

“Laundry detergent pods are small, colorful, and may look like candy or juice to a young child,” study co-author Dr. Marcel J. Casavant, the children’s hospital’s chief toxicologist and director of the Central Ohio Poison Center, said in a press release. “It can take just a few seconds for children to grab them, break them open, and swallow the toxic chemicals they contain, or get the chemicals in their eyes.”

Since the introduction of the laundry packets, there has been a spike in reports involving poisonings over the past few years, often involving toddlers or young children chewing on the pods or putting them in to their mouths.

Children typically experience mild upset stomach after swallowing laundry detergent. However, experts warn the new highly concentrated single-load liquid detergent packets cause different symptoms, such as excessive vomiting, wheezing and gasping. Some children become very sleepy, while others report experiencing breathing problems and may ultimately need a ventilator to help them breathe. Exposing the packets to their eyes may also cause corneal abrasions, or scratches.

Laundry Pod Safety Efforts

In 2012, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) issued warnings to alert the public about the risk of detergent packet injuries.

The safety alert highlighted the poisoning risk the packets pose to children who are exposed to the product, and came after several other regulatory agencies and health experts raised concerns about the risks associated with the single-use detergent packets.

In response to substantial criticism over the brightly colored packaging Tide Pods are sold in, Proctor & Gamble did agree to make several changes to their product packages last year. The manufacturer altered the containers to an opaque material, instead of a clear plastic, to deter children from seeing the brightly colored product and trying to get inside the container.

However, the lead author of the study said no laundry pods are currently safe, and called for new national safety standards.

“It is not clear that any laundry detergent pods currently available are truly child resistant; a national safety standard is needed to make sure that all pod makers adopt safer packaging and labeling,” Dr. Gary Smith, director of the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children’s Hospital said in the press release. “Parents of young children should use traditional detergent instead of detergent pods.”

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