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Study: Laundry packet poisonings increase in kids

On average, a child was hospitalized every day for some injury involving a laundry pod

The Columbus Dispatch

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Rick Spiller can tell you exactly when laundry detergent packets hit the market. Most people who work in poison control probably could.

“You think you know something, and 2012 came around and these pods came out,” said Spiller, director of the Central Ohio Poison Center at Nationwide Children’s Hospital. “They were a shock.”

To children, those shiny lumps might as well be candy. Kids did what kids do. They put them in their mouths.

From January 2013 to December 2014, poison control centers nationwide took more than 22,000 calls concerning kids and laundry pods. About 450 cases occurred in central Ohio. In most, the pods had been ingested.

Spiller is co-author of a study out today in the journal Pediatrics that looked at more than 62,000 cases involving children younger than 6 and laundry and dishwasher detergent during 2013 and 2014. The research, which built on an earlier paper by some of the same authors, showed that over those two years, detergent package cases increased faster than cases involving regular detergents.

It also found that laundry pods were far more dangerous for kids.

Two children died after exposure to such packets, and 104 had to be intubated, compared with no deaths and 13 intubations involving other laundry detergent and all forms of dishwasher detergent. On average, a child was hospitalized every day for some injury involving a laundry pod.

“This is a very unique product, and it’s different than what we’ve been used to,” Spiller said. “ This is not the laundry detergent of your mother.”

Several companies now make single-dose detergent packs — there are Tide Pods, Purex UltraPacks, Arm & Hammer Power Paks — all of which appear to be gaining popularity among consumers for their ease. The pods are bright, compact and neat. “Simply toss one in and you’re off,” brand All says of its Mighty Pacs.

But packing a concentrated cleaner into a tiny bundle has made poisonings easier, too.

“A child only has to put this packet in their mouth and bite down, and as soon as it bursts, game over,” said Dr. Gary Smith, the senior author of the study and director of the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Children’s.

Manufacturers have taken measures to make pods safer. Last year, they agreed to a set of voluntary standards that included applying bitter agents to the pod’s dissolving film and opaque packaging that’s harder to open.

Last week, Procter & Gamble announced that it was updating its packaging for Tide Pods to include a child-resistant zipper. It also launched a campaign encouraging parents to keep laundry packets out of the reach of small children. P&G spokeswoman Rotha Brauntz said consumer research shows that parents weren’t thinking about laundry while child-proofing their homes.

“What we found out is that the laundry room is a room that was often overlooked,” she said.

Spiller and Smith said that while the industry changes are encouraging, they don’t appear to be solving the problem.

Cases involving pods, which increased 17 percent from 2013 to 2014, increased by an additional 8 percent in 2015, Smith said. In 2015, central Ohio handled 305 pod cases, Spiller said.

Smith said the voluntary standards need to be strengthened, and he doesn’t particularly appreciate safety efforts that place the bulk of the responsibility on parents.

“It’s not OK to put something into the environment of children that’s so highly toxic and then expect parents to watch their children 100 percent of the time,” he said.

Above all, he said that if cases don’t go down and standards don’t get tougher, it’s time to take laundry packets off the market. There’s no real need for them, he said.

Regular laundry detergent still works fine.

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