— -- Laundry detergent packets commonly known as "pods" are a growing safety issue for young children, according to a new study published today in the Pediatrics medical journal.
Researchers at the Research Institute at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, looked at 62,254 children under the age of 6 who were exposed, mainly through ingestion, to various forms of laundry and dishwasher detergent from 2013 to 2014, according to data from the National Poison Data System. Most of those who had been exposed were under the age of 3.
While severe complications and death were rare among those exposed, researchers noted that the greatest number of exposures were to laundry and dishwasher detergent packets or "pods."
They found a 17 percent increase in children being exposed to laundry detergent packets and a 14 percent increase in exposure to dishwasher detergent packets over the study period. Additionally, they found children who suffered the worst complications, including hospitalizations and intubation, were more likely to have been exposed to laundry detergent pods than other kinds of detergent. Two deaths reported in the study were associated with laundry detergent pods.
However, the study is limited, as the "number of pediatric exposures to detergent is underestimated because not all exposures are reported to [Poison Control Centers]," researchers noted.
Researchers' findings showed that "laundry detergent packets are more toxic than other types of detergents," according to the study, and they advised that households with children under age 6 should consider using traditional laundry detergent instead of the pods.
”Detergents should be stored up and out of sight of children and in a locked cabinet to help prevent exposures," the researchers wrote. "When detergents are in use, parents and child caregivers should not leave the product accessible to children."
Dr. Donna Seger, executive director of the Tennessee Poison Center, told ABC News that children are at risk because they can inhale chemicals in the pod as they try to eat it.
"The problem with these pods is they are put together under pressure and they explode when they are put under water," Seger explained. "It gets into their lungs."
Seger said she estimates that in Tennessee, children go to the hospital in about 10 percent of cases where they are exposed to laundry detergent.
Cheri Wessels, a certified specialist in poison information at Tennessee Poison Control, explained parents can't rely on just putting these detergent pods out of reach for small children.
"They’re very attractive and very pretty. [Parents] need to put them in something where kids can’t see them," Wessels told ABC News.
While she said "the higher they keep it the better," she pointed out that kids can climb and get into seemingly out-of-reach areas.
Researchers also pointed to the need to address the packaging and chemical composition of these packets.
The American Cleaning Institute, an industry group that represents the U.S. cleaning products market, released a statement today calling for proper storage and handling of laundry packets in the wake of the study's results. They also said manufacturers were working towards new packaging and labeling measures to improve safety.
"In addition to our industry’s ongoing efforts to educate consumers on proper product safety and storage, manufacturers are implementing a series of packaging and labeling measures as part of a new international standard that will help reduce accidental exposures,” the group said in its statement. The group explained these new standards will include “a menu of secure package closures” designed to deter child access, new warnings and first-aid guidance.
Laundry detergent pods would also be changed under the new standards by adding a bitter solution to the film covering the detergent so children won’t want to eat the pods and by making the pods stronger so children will have difficulty biting into them.