By Nina Bell
Eye on Public Health
Those colorful pods of laundry detergent can actually do more harm than good. Recent reports from poison control centers across the country found that children are mistaking these colorful bite-sized casings for candy.
Last year, poison control centers reported 1,008 laundry detergent exposures in just one month. Of those cases, almost half were from ingesting the pods or having them burst into the eyes or cause skin irritations. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that almost 90 percent of those with detergent pods exposures were children age 5 or younger.
The National Poison Data System found that 180,493 exposures to household cleaning products were reported in 2010 with 8,685 resulting from laundry detergents (all types). The laundry pod was just introduced to the United States in 2010, whereas they have been available in Europe for more than 10 years.
Based on European data, laundry pod poisonings and exposures accounted for 96 percent of the reported annual cases involving children age 5 and under. Ingestions accounted for 80 percent of those cases. Since the pods have been introduced in the United States, there have been more than 9,000 accidental poisonings from the pods. That number continues to grow as more people use the convenient product.
Unfortunately, you can’t blame a child’s curiosity for his or her interest in the cute, squishy, fun-sized pods. They look like a new toy or a delicious piece of candy. Because of their packaging in clear plastic containers, they truly do give the impression that they are edible pieces of candy with a juicy center. Of course, they appear tasty in the eyes of a child.
Despite that glorious appearance, they are considerably dangerous with some toddlers being hospitalized after ingesting the high-concentrate liquid inside.
What can be done about keeping the product from your child? While it may be convenient to leave the laundry detergent pods sit in plain view by the washing machine, they really should be placed out of a child’s reach. And of course, this would be true of all household chemical products.
Several manufacturers, including Proctor and Gamble (makers of Tide), have indicated they plan to repackage the pods in opaque containers rather than clear ones to deter little eyes from spying them out. Proctor and Gamble has also noted they were putting a double-locking system on the pod’s storage bins. However, locking them in a cabinet and out of a child’s reach is the best way to avoid accidental poisoning.
If your child does ingest the product, the CDC urges parents or guardians to rinse out the child’s mouth well to extract as much of the product as possible. The next step is to call your local poison control center. To go one step beyond the recommendations, parents should consider contacting the child’s pediatrician.
Health researchers as well as consumer products research have discovered that the pods are safe for use as long as they are used in accordance to package directions. Eating them is not a safe option.
Bell, Ph.D., MPH, is a public health professor with Ashford University and works in health promotions for the Meadville Family YMCA. You can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.