Those colorful, all-in-one detergent pods may be convenient way to get the laundry done, but they pose a risk to young children, a new study has found.
More than 17,000 children under the age of six were exposed to the laundry pods between 2012 and 2013, a study published in the journal Pediatrics found by tracking calls to poison control centers throughout the country. Most of the incidents involved a child placing the pod in their mouth or eye.
Researchers at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio noted that the exposures led to 769 children in the U.S. being hospitalized. Thirty went into a coma and 12 suffered seizures after handling the squishy plastic coated discs filled with laundry soap, softener and other detergents. One child died after ingesting a pod, researchers found.
Dr. Gary Smith, the director of the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children’s Hospital and the study’s lead author, said that he has been in pediatric emergency medicine for more than three decades and had never seen so many children sickened by a laundry product.
"These are very different from traditional laundry detergent," he said of the pods. "Although we are not entirely sure why they are so toxic, we know that they are very concentrated and the chemicals they contain may not be identical to those found in liquid laundry detergent."
Only about half of the calls into the poison center about the laundry pod products resulted in a trip to the doctor or emergency room, Smith said. However, nearly two-thirds of the calls involved children between one and two years of age, he said.
"This is a group that has newfound mobility. They are quick, curious and do not recognize danger," Smith noted, adding that even turning your back for a moment is all it takes for a child to scoop up a pod and put it in his or her mouth.
The trade group that represents most of the major laundry detergent manufacturers in the U.S. said makers of laundry pods have been working with the Consumer Product Safety Commission to reduce the number of accidents involving their products.
"Manufacturers of liquid laundry detergent packets are very committed to reducing the number of children involved in accidents with these products, which are used safely by millions of consumers,” the American Cleaning Institute said in a statement issued earlier today in response to the study. "The guidance provides best practices for the household laundry products industry in the labeling and design of packaging for liquid laundry packets. This guidance encourages that safe handling and usage information is clear and prominently placed on the label."
Smith said he applauded the steps already taken by laundry detergent manufacturers and noted that stricter safety standards for laundry pods are currently under development. But he said he more can be done to protect children.
"It's important that there be clear language in the new standards that mandate truly child resistant packaging for these products," he said. "We also need appropriate labeling so that parents understand potential hazards and can make informed decisions when deciding whether or not to purchase these products."
Smith said he does not think the pods should be sold in see-through containers and he would also like to see the products made less colorful so they aren't so appealing to children.
Parents of young children should not keep laundry pods in the home, Smith advised.
"If you do decide to purchase them, they should put them away immediately after use and keep them in a high, locked cabinet where a young child can't easily reach them," he recommended.