Health & Wellness

'Never seen anything like this': More children harmed by ingesting laundry pods

Despite repeated warnings about the dangers to young children from laundry detergent pods, calls to poison control centers continue to rise, a new study shows.

Researchers found an increase of nearly 20 percent in reports of children putting the brightly colored packets into their mouths, with serious and sometimes even fatal consequences, according to the study published in Pediatrics Monday.

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Consumer Reports is now warning that laundry detergent pods should never be used in homes where young children live or visit. Calls to poison centers about children and laundry pods have increased over the past several years.

“What we found was astounding,” study coauthor Dr. Gary Smith, director of the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children’s Hospital told TODAY. “During the two years of this study we saw an increase in the number of exposures due to detergent, but especially among exposures to laundry detergent packets. In fact, a child is reported to a poison control center about every 45 minutes in this country.”

Related: Laundry pods put thousands of children at risk

Smith and his colleagues analyzed data from 62,254 calls made in 2013 and 2014 to U.S. poison control centers reporting unintentional exposures to laundry or dishwasher detergent among children younger than 6.

Calls increased for all types of detergent exposures, but the rise was greatest for the highly-concentrated laundry detergent pods (17 percent); followed by dishwasher detergent packets (14 percent).

Laundry pods are the most hazardous, particularly when the packets contain liquid detergent rather than granules.

The harms to children from laundry pod ingestion included:

  • 17 cases of coma
  • 6 cases of respiratory arrest
  • 4 cases of pulmonary edema (fluid in the lungs)
  • 2 cases of cardiac arrest

“I’ve seen children in emergency departments for decades that have been exposed to laundry detergents,” Smith said. “But we have never seen anything like this. These children have come in in a coma, they’ve stopped breathing. We’ve even had two deaths in the last two years due to exposure to laundry detergent packets.”

Bitter taste, stronger containers

Earlier this year two lawmakers took a stab at reducing the damage by introducing a bill, the Detergent Poisoning and Child Safety Act, that would require safety standards for the products.

“Anyone with common sense can see how dangerous it is to have liquid detergent in colorful, bite-sized packets that children will inevitably swallow,” said bill coauthor Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) in a statement.

Related: Lawmakers take aim at brightly colored pods

The bill was put on hold after pod manufacturers agreed to make changes to their products, which included adding a bitter tasting packet coating and using containers that were harder to open, according to a Wall Street Journal report.

Related: Increasing reports to poison centers prompt new laundry pod labeling

Smith and his colleagues take a harder stance, "strongly recommending" that parents not use laundry detergent packets if there are young children at home.

“They should use traditional laundry detergent," Smith said.

According to The American Association of Poison Control Centers symptoms of ingesting a pod can include excessive vomiting, wheezing, breathing problems or sleepiness.

To keep children safe, the AAPCC advises:

  • Always keep detergent containers closed, sealed and stored up high, out of the reach of children.
  • Call your local poison center at 1-800-222-1222 immediately if a child is believed to have come in in contact with detergent or a laundry pod.
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