Laundry Detergent Pods: What You Need to Know

18-Feb-2015 11:25 AM EST

Kids + Chemical Safety

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    Credit: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2012. Health Hazards Associated with Laundry Detergent Pods – United States, May-June 2012. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report 61: 825-829.

    Child Exposures to Laundry Detergent

Newswise — Laundry detergent pods became available on the US market in 2010 and are easy to use. They are a single detergent packet that can be easily dropped into a load of laundry. These pods contain highly concentrated detergents wrapped in a thin film that easily dissolves in water. They may resemble a small, brightly colored piece of candy which may be easily mistaken by children. These pods can also break when light pressure is applied to them. The appeal and design of laundry detergent pods has already resulted in many reported poisonings among children.

What do laundry detergent pods contain that is so toxic and what are the symptoms of exposure?

The film that surrounds the pod is often made of polyvinyl alcohol. It acts as a poor barrier between the person handling the pod and the detergents inside. The film dissolves easily and is safe for washing clothes. The detergents inside the pod are actually a cocktail of harsh chemicals. Ingredients are frequently disclosed on manufacturer websites.

These chemicals may include surfactants, bleaches, solvents, optical brighteners, enzymes, and preservatives. Relative to conventional laundry detergents, pods contain higher concentrations of surfactants which are often ethoxylated alcohols, of which 1,4-dioxane is a known carcinogenic byproduct. Other common ingredients include but are not limited to propylene glycol, ethanolamine, disodium distyrylbiphenyl disulfonate, and fragrances which are often volatile organic compounds (VOCs).

The most common symptoms that may develop following ingestion of laundry pod contents include vomiting, coughing/ choking, red eyes, drowsiness, and nausea. Less common symptoms include severe eye irritation, breathing difficulties and tearing of the esophagus. It is not known which chemicals in the pods are responsible for causing these severe symptoms. There is no doubt that the pods are of concern for ingestion by children.

What is being done to prevent further childhood exposures?

A recent article indicates that laundry detergent pods are the most commonly ingested household cleaning product. This accounts for 70% of all ingested detergents by children less than 5 years of age.

Some laundry detergent pod manufacturers have quickly responded to the emerging risks. A study funded by one of the largest detergent manufacturers collected data from 12 different poison control centers. The data indicated that 9 out of 10 cases of detergent pod incidents were by children. This manufacturer now markets the pods in opaque and less attractive containers to deter childhood attraction. They are also looking to market the pods for sale in triple locked containers.

Organizations, such as Consumer Reports, are asking manufacturers to make more changes to the product and packaging design. This includes adding childproof packaging, warning labels, changing the appearance of the pods, or to apply a bad-tasting coating. The American Cleaning Institute also launched a safety campaign to educate parents of the dangers of the pods.

How can I keep my child safe from these laundry pods?

Although there are many advocates working to keep your children safe you can assist by keeping in mind the following list of safety tips issued by the American Cleaning Institute.

1. These products aren’t toys so don’t let children handle them.2. Make it a habit to store the laundry pods out of sight or in a locked cabinet, just as you would other poisonous cleaning supplies.3. Be careful not to puncture or pull pods apart. Pods can quickly dissolve upon contact with water, wet hands or saliva.4. Always keep the container closed and dry.5. Always ensure re-closable bag or container is tightly sealed after use and during storage.6. As with other laundry or household cleaning products, keep pods in their original container with intact labels.

If you think a child has been exposed to a laundry detergent pod call your local poison center at 1-800-222-1222 immediately.

Resources

1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2012. Health Hazards Associated with Laundry Detergent Pods – United States, May-June 2012. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report 61: 825-829.

2. Bonney et al. 2013. Laundry detergent capsules and pediatric poisoning. Canadian Family Physician 59: 1295-1296.

3. Fayers et al. 2006. Detergent Capsules Causing Ocular Injuries in Children. Journal of Pediatric Ophthalmology and Strabismus 43: 250-251.

4. Environmental Protection Agency. 2014. Key Characteristics of Laundry Detergent Ingredients. Available: http://www.epa.gov/dfe/pubs/laundry/techfact/keychar.htm#optical [accessed 25 November 2014].

5. Procter and Gamble. 2013. Tide Pods. Available: http://www.pgproductsafety.com/productsafety/ingredients/household_care/laundary_fabric_care/Tide/Tide_Pods.pdf [accessed 25 November 2014.

6. The Sun Products Corporation. 2014. Mighty Pacs Safety Information. Available: http://www.sunproductscorp.com/MSD_Sheets.aspx [accessed 25 November 2014].

7. Schneir et al. 2013. Toxicity Following Laundry Detergent Pod Ingestion. Pediatric Emergency Care 29: 741-742.

8. Consumer Reports. 2013. Laundry detergent pods remain a health hazard. Available http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/2013/03/laundry-detergent-pods-remain-a-health-hazard/index.htm [accessed 26 November 2014]

9. Kroll David. 2014 Reducing Childhood Poisoning From Laundry Detergent Pods. Available http://www.forbes.com/sites/davidkroll/2014/11/10/reducing-childhood-poisoning-from-laundry-detergent-pods/ [accessed 26 November 2014]

10. American Cleaning Institute. 2012. American Cleaning Institute Response –CDC Report on Laundry Detergent Packet Safety. Available: http://www.cleaninginstitute.org/aci_response_–_cdc_report_on_laundry_detergent_packets/ [accessed 26 November 2014].

11. American Cleaning Institute. 2012. Make Laundry Safety a Priority Today-and Always. Available: http://www.cleaninginstitute.org/clean_living/laundry.aspx [accessed 26 November 2014].

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