Since the first of the year, 68 teenagers from the ages of 13 to 19 years old have been intentionally exposed to liquid laundry detergent pods.
“Since our first alert to this life-threatening activity, the trend of intentionally ingesting single-load laundry packets has increased in its popularity despite repeated warnings,” said Stephen Kaminski, executive director for the American Association of Poison Control Centers.
During the first two weeks of 2018, poison control centers handled 39 cases. That was about the number they had in 2016. In the past week, another 47 cases have occurred, for a total of 86 between January 1 and January 21, 2018.
“We cannot stress enough how dangerous this is to the health of individuals – it can lead to seizure, pulmonary edema, respiratory arrest, coma, and even death,” Kaminski said.
While the fad of teens ingesting the liquid detergent pods is new, children being poisoned by them isn’t.
Since 2012 when the pods first came out, thousands of children have been poisoned. In 2017, there were 12,299 calls to U.S. poison control centers due to exposure to laundry pods, according to AAPCC's latest data
Consumers Union, the policy and advocacy arm of Consumer Reports, has been alerting the public of the health hazard of laundry pods since they were introduced and is pressing the industry to do more to protect children.
Laundry detergent pods have been sold since the short-lived Salvo tablets of the 1960s and '70s. In 2006, Cot’n Wash reintroduced them to the U.S. market with the launch of Dropps. It wasn’t until Procter & Gamble launched Tide Pods in February 2012, however, that these cleaners started to gain widespread appeal.
Consumers Union first warned of the dangers of detergent pods in May 2012, when there had been about 700 reports to poison-control centers on young children.
Pods have a 15 percent share of the detergent market, so why are there a disproportionate number of pod exposures?
"Children might be attracted to pods because their colorful appearance and size are similar to candy," the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.
A further concern is the types of symptoms pod exposures are causing. Swallowing conventional detergent might result in mild stomach upset, but with highly concentrated detergent pods the ingestion can cause excessive vomiting, lethargy, and gasping. In some reported cases, victims stopped breathing and required ventilation support.
Consumers Union urges families with young children to keep detergent pods locked up and out of reach. It also called on the Consumer Product Safety Commission to investigate pods and consider stricter regulations. Consumers Union has also asked manufacturers to improve the safety of these products.
Although the industry has taken some safety steps, more needs to be done to keep kids safe, Consumers Union said. It will continue to call on manufacturers to develop adequate child-safe packaging and prominent warning labels. Companies should explore other safety measures, including changing the color of the pods to make them less appealing or coating them with a foul-tasting material. And retailers should improve in-store signage to better alert parents and caregivers to the dangers of laundry pods.
Water, wet hands, and saliva can cause the packets to dissolve quickly and release their highly concentrated toxic contents. Parents and caregivers are urged always to handle the product carefully and with dry hands.
If you or a loved one misuses a laundry packet or has a question about the risk of exposure to one, contact the national Poison Help hotline at 800-222-1222 or text Poison to 797979 to save the number in your phone.