Hundreds of tots poisoned by laundry detergent pods
Since they first hit U.S. shelves in early 2012, laundry detergent pods have gained popularity for their ease of use and effectiveness. Pop one of the brightly colored pods in with your laundry and there’s no need for measuring liquid or powder detergents.
However, according to one new study, hundreds of toddlers have been poisoned by the candy-looking pods, causing thousands of panicked calls to the nation’s poison control centers.
For the new study, published this week in the journal Pediatrics, researchers compiled data from cases reported in the National Poison Data System. They found that 17,230 children under the age of six—nearly one an hour—were exposed to laundry detergent pods in 2012 and 2013. The vast majority of the exposures were swallowing, though inhaling and other contact with the chemicals in the laundry detergent pods was also included.
According to the researchers, the exposures lead to 769 hospitalizations and one death.
“Laundry detergent pods are small, colorful, and may look like candy or juice to a young child,” said Dr. Marcel Casavant, study coauthor, of Nationwide Children’s Hospital and the Central Ohio Poison Center, in a statement. “It can take just a few seconds for children to grab them, break them open and swallow the toxic chemicals they contain, or get the chemicals in their eyes.”
Younger children—one- and two-year-olds—accounted for nearly two-thirds of the reported exposures.
The chemicals in the pods is caustic and can lead to vomiting, choking, drowsiness and burning of the mouth, throat and eyes, says Dr. Kamala Ghaey, pediatrician with Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center in Chicago.
“The pods look and feel like candy—so brightly colored and so attractive to young children,” Dr. Ghaey says. “This has been a problem since they were introduced a few years ago. Swallowing can cause a lot of damage to the mouth throat and stomach.”
She advises parents of young children opt for more traditional liquid and power detergents, which may not be as attractive to young eye and appetites, but are less concentrated and, therefore, less toxic.
“The colors and textures lend themselves to play for young minds. Parents need to be very careful bringing pods into their homes,” she says.
Jerome Dimaano of the Illinois Poison Center says calls related to the detergent pods in Illinois have increased, estimating the number of calls each month to be around 45. For 2014, he says calls nationally will likely hit nearly 12,000.
For parents of young children, in addition to abstaining from purchasing the laundry detergent pods, Dimaano recommends keeping them in a locket cabinet, up and away from little hands.
“The containers themselves aren’t child-proof, so parents should tape or tie them shut for added safety,” Dimaano says. “And be sure to put them away immediately after use.”
If a parent or caregiver suspects a child has ingested or otherwise been exposed to a detergent pod, he recommends seeking medical help right away, either by calling the child’s doctor or contacting the Illinois Poison Center at 800-222-1222. They will be able to help determine if you need to seek immediate attention at your hospital’s local emergency room.
Though laundry detergent pods are only one household product parents should be aware of—the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates 2.3 million poison exposures annually in the U.S.—Dr. Ghaey hopes this new research will cause them to refrain from using the bright colors and candy-like textures for the product.
“Adults are using these pods,” she says. “There’s no reason they need to be so colorful.”
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