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Many U.S. kids still eating laundry pods

Many American children are still being poisoned by laundry pods, according to a new study that suggests voluntary safety standards many not do enough to prevent kids from eating them.

Poison control centers fielded nearly 73,000 calls for help related to single-use liquid laundry detergent packets, or pods, from 2012 through 2017, the first six years these products were on the market. Nearly all of these cases were among kids under six years old. In many instances, kids easily unwrapped brightly colored packages they mistook for candy.

The annual rate of laundry pod calls to poison control for kids under six more than doubled from 2012 to 2015, before voluntary safety standards from the American Society for Testing and Materials called for plainer, opaque packages that were harder for kids to unwrap.

Then, from 2015 to 2017, the annual call rate dropped 18 percent among kids under six even as it surged among older children and adults.

“The current voluntary standard, public awareness campaigns, and product and packaging changes to-date are good first steps, but the numbers are still unacceptably high,” said senior study author Dr. Gary Smith, director of the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio.

“We can do better,” Smith said by email.

It’s possible that safety standards fell short of expectations because they allowed manufacturers to meet child-resistant packaging requirements in a variety of ways instead of adhering to a single strict standard, researchers note in Pediatrics.

Older standards established by the Poison Prevention Packaging Act of 1970 sparked a rapid decline in poisoning from products like aspirin and household chemicals, by 40 to 55 percent within the first two to three years, the study team writes. Unlike these products, which people may store for years, laundry pods should be used up more quickly, allowing any changes to make packaging safer to have a faster and more dramatic impact, researchers note.

Chemicals in laundry pods can cause seizures, coma, severe breathing impairments, eye damage and burns.

Eight people died in the study after eating laundry pods.

Two of these fatalities involved curious babies. The other six deaths were among adults age 43 years and older with dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, or developmental disability.

“Like other poisons, young children can become much sicker than other older individuals with any given dose of liquid laundry detergent because their body weight is less,” Smith said. “Fortunately, traditional liquid or powder laundry detergent is far less toxic than (laundry pods) and therefore is a safer alternative.”

A total of 239 people in the study survived “major effects” from laundry pod exposure that were life-threatening or resulted in significant disfigurement or disability; most of these cases involved kids under six.

Most cases in the study, however, involved only “minimally bothersome” symptoms or none at all.

The study wasn’t a controlled experiment designed to prove what factors might directly cause kids to eat laundry pods or suffer harmful health effects as a result.

Another drawback is that researchers didn’t account for sales of laundry pods, or product availability, said Dr. Richard Dart, director of the Rocky Mountain Poison and Drug Center and the Denver Health and Hospital Authority.

Still, laundry pods may be more dangerous because the detergent is more concentrated than it is in bottles or boxes of soap, Dart, who wasn’t involved in the study, said by email.

That means parents should take immediate action if they suspect a child has been exposed.

First, parents should call a poison center (1-800-222-1222), which is free.

“The initial first aid in these cases is usually to irrigate the eye or to have the child drink tap water to dilute and wash the detergent out of the throat,” Dart advised. “If eye or throat symptoms persist, then the child should be taken to an emergency department, and if they are having breathing problems, 911 should be called.”

SOURCE: Pediatrics, online June 3, 2019.

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