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Detergent Pod Injury Risk for Young Children Much Greater Than Traditional Detergents: Study

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New research highlights the serious risk of laundry detergent pod poisoning, suggesting that young children are four times more likely to be hospitalized for injuries associated with exposure to detergent when it comes from a single-use pod, as opposed to tradition bottles.

In a study published this month in the medical journal Injury Prevention, researchers from the University of Alabama at Birmingham indicate that the highly concentrated packs, which are designed to be used in a single load of laundry, pose a much greater risk for children five years of age or younger.

The research team, led by Thomas A. Swain, of the Center for Injury Sciences at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, examined nearly 36,000 cases of injury due to all laundry detergent related exposures in U.S. emergency departments between 2012 and 2014. The information was collected from the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s (CPSC) National Electronic Injury Surveillance System.

According to the injury reports examined, there were more than 26,000 non-pod related injuries and nearly 10,000 pod-related injuries, suggesting that more injuries per year are caused by non-pod detergents. However, the degree of injuries varied significantly among pod and non-pod related emergency visits.

The estimated 26,000 non-pod related injuries treated at emergency departments consisted mainly of mild to severe contact dermatitis or skin rashes from the liquid detergent spilling or splashing on the user, in which most were treated with out-patient forms of relief therapy. In comparison, of the nearly 10,000 pod-related injuries, 71% were classified as poisoning cases which resulted in hospitalizations. An estimated 94% of all pod-related poisonings and injuries involved children five years old or younger.

The data indicated that although pod-related injuries were not as prevalent as liquid-based detergent exposures, the potential outcomes of pod-related exposures posed a much greater health risk to younger children. The researchers also found many more eye related injuries for pod detergents than traditional forms, which could be the result of the pod coating dissolving on children’s hands and then rubbing their eyes.

The findings are similar to those of a study published in April in the medical journal Pediatrics, which found that children exposed to laundry pods were four to eight times more likely to become ill and experience problems than those exposed to dishwasher detergent packets.

Laundry Detergent Pod Risks

Although pod-style detergents for washing machines and dishwashers have been on the market in Europe since 2001, they were first introduced to U.S. markets in 2011, and have grown rapidly in popularity for their convenience. In June 2015, Safe Kids Worldwide projected that roughly 20% of the U.S. population now uses laundry detergent pods, and that number is expected to increase, posing an increasing safety hazard in homes nationwide.

The pods contain highly concentrated detergent that is encapsulated in a water-soluble membrane. Once placed in a washing machine, the polyvinyl alcohol capsule dissolves allowing various blends of poisonous detergents to enter the machine. However, the numbers of poisonings continue to rise each year due to children or mentally handicapped individuals placing them in their mouths or biting into the gel packs, which are often brightly colored and resemble teething toys.

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.

The popular consumer watchdog group Consumer Reports evaluated data collected by the American Association of Poison Control Centers (AAPCC) for the first six months of injuries for pod-related exposures and found that two children under the age of five had died from ingesting pod detergent packs.

In January, the AAPCC reported the highest number of laundry and dish detergent pod-related injuries in a single year. The agency recorded more than 12,594 incidents in 2015 involving children ages 5 and younger, which is a rate of more than 1,000 incidents per month.

The rate of exposures have continued to climb. From January 1 to March 31 of this year alone, 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 keep detergent containers closed and stored out of reach of children. They should follow all product instructions and call their local poison center at (800) 222-1222 if a child has come into contact with the contents of a laundry pod.

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