Laundry 'Pods' Get Makeover After Child Safety Risks

PHOTO: A new study found laundry pods can pose a serious risk to children.PlayPat Sullivan/AP Photo
WATCH Consumer Reports No Longer Recommends Laundry Pods

After tens of thousands of calls from frightened caregivers to poison control centers across the country, your laundry detergent may be getting a fresh look.

According to the American Association of Poison Control Centers, the new highly-concentrated, single-load liquid laundry detergent packets look a little like candy to kids -- and sometimes cause children to experience excessive vomiting and difficulty breathing when ingested.

Liquid laundry detergent packets, often known as “pods,” first hit the market in 2012. They're convenient to use and extremely popular -- but they also carry potential dangers.

Between January and July there were 7,184 incidents reported to the A.A.P.C.C. involving kids younger than 6 years old. That number is on track to exceed the total number of incidents reported in all of 2014 (11,714). This has prompted consumer advocacy groups to ask for stronger warnings on laundry pods.

This past July, Consumer Reports decided to stop recommending the pods to consumers and urged households with young children to avoid the pods.

Consumer Reports notes that its warnings do not apply to detergent packets containing powder. Injuries associated with powder-containing packets are less severe and less frequent.

According to A.S.T.M. International, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission approached the organization about bringing together industry experts, manufacturers, safety advocates, and scientists make sure the pods are packaged and labeled safely. On Tuesday, the parties came to an agreement on a series of voluntary safety standards.

The new voluntary standards apply new labeling and packaging requirements, including:

1. Adding an agent to the packet’s outer film that provides a “repulsive” taste.

2. The container holding the packets is not transparent or translucent.

3. A container requiring more skill to open.

4. Adding new warning statements and safety symbols on labels cautioning consumers of ingestion or direct skin or eye contact.

5. More strength to each packet’s outer film, making them more difficult to bite through.

However, CPSC Chairman Elliot Kaye says he's not entirely sure the voluntary standards go far enough.

“I certainly commend the leadership, but at the end of the day, I am purely outcome-oriented,” Kaye told ABC. “What I want to see more than anything is kids not being poisoned. I just don’t know if this is going to be adequate.”

Ideally, he said, he’d like to see the industry redesign the packets so that the detergent inside isn’t poisonous.

"I’m never going to expect that parents have to bear the primary responsibility" of keeping pods away from kids, said Kaye, who's also a dad. "The industry needs to make products that aren't poisoning children."

Dr. Carol Pollack-Nelson, an independent safety consultant who was involved in the negotiations, said the standards were the result of “compromise.”

Though the process was largely productive, "there were moments" she wasn't sure the group could reach a consensus, Pollack-Nelson told ABC. "In the beginning, everybody's standing in the corner. With the potential for a mandatory standard, people start moving more and more towards the middle."

“If the standard isn’t doing enough, then the standard will be revised,” she said. “I feel very confident that this is going to have an impact. I also don’t want to be naïve – I’m not done with our investigation, and neither is our group.”

She and other team members will meet very soon to determine what would constitute an "acceptable" reduction in incidents.

The team is trying not to be "design-prescriptive," Pollack-Nelson said. "We want manufacturers to find a way to fix the problem."

Procter & Gamble, maker of Tide Pods, told ABC News it “will work diligently to ensure that our products meet all of these guidelines.”

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