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Poison control centers are warning about a sudden spike in reports of teenagers eating or being exposed to the contents of single-use laundry pods, amid a recent viral “challenge” on social media, which encourages children to try to eat the packets of concentrated detergent, which could result in serious and life-threatening poisoning.
The American Association of Poison Control Centers (AAPCC) issued a press release on January 16, indicating that they have handled at least 39 cases of intentional laundry pod exposure poisoning over the first 15 days of 2018, involving teens between 13 to 19 year of age. That compares to 39 such cases among that group in all of 2016, and 53 such cases in all of 2017 among that age bracket.
The cause is believed to be the so-called “laundry packet challenge,” which started as a joke meant to be sarcastic and ironic, highlighting the absurdity of eating something that is clearly poisonous. However, it appears that a lot of teens do not understand the joke, which has spread around the internet in the form of images and videos of people sitting down to meals of Tide Pods and sexualized cartoon characters colored like popular laundry pod brands begging not to be eaten.
“The ‘laundry packet challenge’ is neither funny nor without serious health implications,” Stephen Kaminski, AAPCC’s CEO and executive director said in the press release. “The intentional misuse of these products poses a real threat to the health of individuals. We have seen a large spike in single-load laundry packet exposures among teenagers since these videos have been uploaded.”
The AAPCC notes that 91% of the laundry pod poisoning cases among teens so far this year have involved ingestion. It also indicates that poison centers nationwide have received more than 50,000 calls of regarding concerns about exposure to laundry pods over the past five years.
Single-load laundry detergent pods have become increasingly popular in households across the United States. The growth in popularity has also resulted in increased numbers of laundry pod child poisoning and exposures incidents, resulting in thousands of emergency room visits each year due to child ingestion.
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 detergent 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.
The new standards were announced by ASTM International, formerly known as the American Society for Testing and Materials, which developed the new standards in response to safety concerns raised by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) and various consumer advocacy groups.
The CPSC first began to voice concerns about children suffering laundry detergent poisoning from the small packs in 2012, when warnings were issued that urged caregivers to be aware of the risks and to store the products out of sight and reach of children.
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.
In the event a child, teen or any 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.