Florida Baby's Death Highlights Danger of Laundry Detergent Pods

More than 5,000 harmful exposures of the pods have been reported in 2013.

Aug. 17, 2013 — -- The death of a Florida infant after he ate a laundry detergent pod highlights the potential dangers of the packets.

The baby boy, who police said was less than a year old, was a resident at a battered women's shelter in Kissimmee, Fla. The shelter hands out laundry detergent packets individually to residents, according to police.

"The mother took the laundry detergent packets, put them in the laundry basket, which was on the bed, and the child was sleeping on the bed," Kissimmee Police Department spokeswoman Stacie Miller told ABCNews.com.

"She left the room for a brief moment to have a conversation with one of the staff members, and when she came back, the child was eating the laundry detergent packet," Miller said.

The mother called 911, and the child was rushed to the hospital where he died. The accident happened on Aug. 9.

No charges have been brought against the mother at this time, and any possible charges would be up to the state attorney's office.

"At this point, we don't see any malice or child neglect," Miller said.

The Medical Examiner's Office said the baby's autopsy results were still pending, so there is no official cause or manner of death yet. Results of the toxicology reports could take up to 12 weeks.

"We don't have the Medical Examiner's report back yet, but we believe that ingesting the laundry pods was the cause of death," Terri Durdaller of the Department of Children and Families told ABCNews.com in an email.

The DCF said in a statement that the baby's death shed light on a larger issue.

"The death of little Michael is a tragedy. It reminds all of us as parents the dangers of leaving household cleaning supplies around our little ones," the statement said.

"Unfortunately, on average we lose 20 children each year to accidental poisoning in the state of Florida. We have had prior history with this family, and at this time our investigation is open and ongoing. We continue to work with law enforcement as the investigation moves forward into the circumstances surrounding the poisoning."

Dr. Cynthia Lewis-Younger, medical director of the Florida Poison Information Center of Tampa, said problems with the detergent pods are very recent.

"They just became available in the U.S. last year, and within weeks to months of them becoming available we began to get reports through the poison centers of children ending up in the hospital following exposure to these pockets," Lewis-Younger told ABCNews.com.

She said the cases vary in severity, often depending on factors that include the child's age and size. The novelty of the problem means that there are not solid numbers on how many children have been harmed significantly, "but we know it's a lot more than we would get with ordinary laundry detergents," Lewis-Younger said.

From Jan. 1 to July 31 of this year there have been 5,732 exposures reported, she said.

"That doesn't mean all the kids were all really sick. It means they were exposed," Lewis-Younger said. "There are no confirmed deaths that I'm aware of."

Dr. Cathleen Clancy, associate medical director for the National Capital Poison Center, explained the dangers of the detergent packets.

"They are double-double concentrated," Clancy told ABC News. "They also have a very, very attractive packaging so that kids see them, they touch them to their mouth, the surface coating dissolves as its supposed to in the washing machine and then the insides are under a little pressure, especially if you're gripping them with your little toddler hands.

"It squirts into your mouth it's very concentrated detergent," she said. "You take a breath, some of it goes into your lungs, you start to cough, oxygen saturation goes down, you don't have quite enough oxygen to your brain, you get lethargic, then you don't breath, then you throw up. It's a mess."

Clancy believes it is difficult for people to believe that detergent can be dangerous because so many have used it for so long without problems.

"I think that people need to understand that these are different," she said. "It's certainly not a problem that's going away."

"My recommendation is people not buy them if they have children below the age of 5 in their home," Lewis-Younger said. "However, if they're going to buy them, they need to lock them in a secure location, high."

She emphasized that basically any household product could be harmful to children, and said they all need to be stored safely away and that they need to be attended to when they are in use.

Lewis-Younger said that whenever there's an exposure, parents should call the poison control centers. The nationwide number is 800-222-1222.

The American Cleaning Institute, which represents producers of household, industrial and institutional cleaning products, did not immediately respond to ABC News' request for comment. On the homepage of the organization's website, there is a link to an educational pledge people can take to keep the single-load liquid laundry packets out of the reach of children.