Children Eating Laundry Detergent Packets? Doctors Report

Written by P. Humbargar

Edited by A. Noelle

Laundry detergent manufacturers have recently introduced convenient single-use detergent packets that are dropped into laundry machines in place of liquid or powder detergent. Last week, I received a free sample of one of these “pods,” as one manufacturer calls them, and right away thought that it looked just like a little packet of colorful, gooey candy. Then, while at the grocery store the other day, I noticed a display of these bright little pods packaged for sale in clear plastic containers that looked remarkably like my old-fashioned glass cookie jar! Convenience and visually appealing packaging are one thing, but this seems a little over the top. Such a marketing ploy would be almost laughable if children weren’t being sickened by these poisonous little pods.

Image: Tide Pods Detergent

An article at msnbc.com, entitled “More kids eating detergent packs, docs report,” states that nearly 250 cases of children confusing the packets with candy and swallowing them have been reported to poison control centers so far this year. Although this is only a small fraction of the thousands of poisoning calls received yearly, doctors are concerned, as the symptoms—such as nausea and breathing problems—are more severe than in cases of liquid or powder detergent ingestion.

Doctors are not sure why this is so. According to the msnbc.com article, Dr. Michael Buehler of the Carolinas Poison Center suggests several possible reasons, including that the packets have a full cup’s worth of detergent in a bite-size form; the packets could also activate more quickly or differently than regular detergent. “The children get sicker, more severe, and they do this quicker than what we’ve seen with standard liquid laundry exposure,” Buehler said.

One of the more severe cases involved a 17-month-old boy who climbed up on a dresser and popped a pod in his mouth while his mother had her back turned. After vomiting, becoming drowsy, and coughing, he was eventually put on a respirator for a day and was hospitalized for a week.

The msnbc.com article reports that poison control centers in several states have issued or are preparing warnings for emergency rooms and parents.

The detergent industry’s response is that all cleaning products need to be handled carefully and kept out of the reach of children. A spokesman for one of the companies says that it is working with poison control centers and advocacy groups to make sure consumers understand the risks. Another company’s spokesman says that its packaging comes with warning labels to keep out of reach of children.

Whether or not consumers will replace traditional laundry detergents with these colorful miniature packets on a widespread basis is yet to be seen.

As with any potentially harmful household product, it is ultimately the responsibility of parents and other caretakers to keep these packets out of the reach of curious little hands. Although the manufacturers may market their detergent products as bright, multi-colored pods contained in clear “cookie jar” type containers, it is just common sense that we not store them on our kitchen counters, or in any other place accessible to small children.

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