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Laundry Detergent Pods Eye Burn Injuries Among Children Rose Sharply in Recent Years: Report

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Johns Hopkins researchers warn that a rapidly growing number of preschool-aged children are suffering eye injuries from laundry detergent pods, which have become increasingly popular in recent years, but also cause an alarming number of health problems. 

In a research letter published this week in the medical journal JAMA Ophthalmology, researchers indicate that single-use detergent pods now account for more than a quarter of all child chemical eye burn injuries each year, increasing dramatically from just a few years ago.

Single-load laundry detergent pods are commonly found in households nationwide, including popular brands like Tide Pods, Gain Flings, All Mighty Pacs and other products.

As consumers have adopted the packs of concentrated detergent designed to be tossed into a washing machine, an alarming number of laundry pod child injuries have been reported nationwide, including cases of detergent poisoning after the packs were chewed on by young children and chemical burn injuries, with thousands of emergency room visits each year associated with exposure to the products.

The American Association of Poison Control Centers (AAPCC) indicates that there were 11,528 incidents of laundry pod poisoning or exposure involving children age five or younger reported throughout 2016, with about 12,594 reported incidents in 2015.

This latest study looked at data from the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System (NEISS), which is run by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), and tracked reports of chemical eye injuries among children ages three to four years old from 2010 through 2015.

“The number of chemical burns associated with laundry detergent pods increased from 12 instances in 2012 to 480 in 2015; the proportion of all chemical ocular injuries associated with these devices increased from 0.8% of burns in 2012 to 26% in 2015,” the researchers determined. “These injuries most often occurred when children were handling the pods and the contents squirted into one or both of their eyes or when the pod contents leaked onto their hands and a burn resulted from subsequent hand-eye contact.”

The single use detergent pods are often brightly colored and in clear, opaque plastic coatings, which can confuse children or mentally handicapped individuals into thinking they are candy or toys, which they then place in their mouths or attempt to eat.

Ingestion and exposures to the highly concentrated detergent packs may result in serious and potentially fatal outcomes for children. Children who swallow detergents can suffer a wide range of injuries varying from mild stomach irritation, excessive vomiting, wheezing, gasping, fatigue, breathing problems requiring ventilator assistance, and corneal abrasions if it gets into their eyes.

Many agency and consumer advocacy groups, such as Consumer Reports, have recommended the public discontinue the use of laundry detergent pods, and store bottled detergent with safety caps high up where children cannot access them.

In September 2015, ASTM International proposed new industry standards for laundry pods, including changes to make the packaging less attractive to young children, make the materials harder to tear open or chew on, and coating the pods with bitter flavoring to deter children from continuing to try to bite into them.

Since then there has been some decline in the number of incidents, but thousands of children are still being injured via ingestion or exposure.

A number of laundry pod exposure lawsuits have been filed against various manufacturers, alleging that inadequate steps were taken to ensure the safety of the products. Plaintiffs say 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 AAPCC recommends parents and caregivers always follow safety-usage instructions on detergent labels and to always keep detergents closed, sealed, and stored up high so children cannot reach them.

In the event a child or individual is exposed to any laundry detergent, parents and caregivers should call their local poison center at 1-800-222-1222 immediately and have the child medically evaluated at an emergency department.

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