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Detergent Pods Poisoning Children

Published on Nov 26, 2014 at 2:59 pm in Product Liability.

Despite warnings and packaging changes in 2013, thousands of children continue to be injured from ingesting laundry pods. A new study in the journal Pediatrics finds that more needs to be done to reduce the risk.

The tiny detergent pods were introduced in 2012. The small colorful pods quickly became a threat to children as they look like candies. The danger has been highest for one and two year-olds, who are at the age where they explore by putting everything into their mouths.

Poison control centers reported receiving more than 17,000 calls regarding laundry pod poisoning during 2012 and 2013. In about 80% of those cases, the child was exposed by ingesting the pod, and most were ages one and two. Half of those children were resolved over the phone with the child successfully treated at home, but this percentage is lower than the 85% rate for all poison control calls for children under six.

The types of more commonly reported injuries breakdown as follows:

  • Vomiting – 48%
  • Coughing or choking – 13%
  • Eye irritation or pain – 11%
  • Drowsiness or lethargy – 7%
  • Conjunctivitis – 7%

The more serious problems, experienced by less than 1% of children, were:

  • Coma – 30 children
  • Seizures – 12 children
  • Threw up blood – 11 children
  • Excess fluid in lungs – 6 children
  • Dangerously slow heartbeat – 5 children
  • Gastric burns – 2 children
  • Death – 2 children (one 7-month old infant’s death was confirmed due to a laundry pod; the second 16-month-old’s death is under review but suspected to be from laundry pod poisoning)

In more than three-fourths of all incidents, the children were treated by diluting or washing away the detergent. About 100 children were treated with breathing tubes.

How did the children get access to the pods? The study authors were able to find out in 904 cases and the results were as follows:

  • In 42% of the cases, the laundry pods were “stored within sight of the child or always left out.”
  • In 15% of the cases, the pods were “stored inappropriately” or kept in a “low unlocked kitchen or bathroom cabinet.”
  • In 11% of cases, children accessed the detergent from containers that were “temporarily” open and the caregivers were “momentarily distracted.”

In 2013, Procter & Gamble, which makes the most popular-selling pods, Tide Pods, changed its packaging to include a warning label, additional latches and used an opaque container so that children couldn’t see what was inside.

The authors of the study say that more needs to be done. They cautioned that families with small children should not use the pods at all. They recommended improvements to packaging standards to decrease the possibility of child exposure. The study also suggested that the ingredients in the detergent itself could be made less toxic. They used the example of fabric cleaner, which manufacturers were able to eliminate the use of benzene in and replace it with non-toxic compounds that didn’t reduce the effectiveness of the product.