There is a scary new warning about detergent pods. A newly released report estimates about 30 children a day seek medical attention after accidentally swallowing a pod. The detergent pods were first released onto the market in the United State back in 2012. Despite changes made to packaging and labeling, poisonings and other accidents involving concentrated laundry-detergent packets remain a serious problem in the U.S.
At least seven people have died after biting into single-dose laundry packets, including four deaths last year and one earlier this year, according to data reviewed by The Wall Street Journal. The deaths have raised the stakes for consumer product manufacturers such as Procter & Gamble Co. that have made detergent packets ponder whether they should be a centerpiece of their laundry strategy.
So far this year, accidental exposures involving children under six have been reported to U.S. poison centers at a rate of roughly 30 a day. While that is down from about 32 a day last year, poison-control experts are worried that the rate and severity of accidental exposures remains high three years after the product became widely available in the U.S.
And the apparent risk isn’t just with children. Laundry packets were a factor in two fatal accidents involving seniors with dementia who may have mistaken the multicolored capsules for candy.
Procter & Gamble, which commands a 78% share of the laundry-packet market, is currently defending itself against several lawsuits filed by families of children and adults alleging injuries from the products. The Cincinnati-based company is fighting the lawsuits. It said the pods are used safely by millions of people, and that it has taken a number of steps to help prevent unwanted access.
U.S. poison centers last year had 13,314 cases of exposure to laundry-packet contents, up 20% from 2013, according to Henry Spiller, director of the Central Ohio Poison Center at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, who obtained the numbers from a national database. According to the American Association of Poison Control Centers, more than 90% of the incidents involved children under six, of the total reported cases in 2014, 4,110 people sought medical treatment and 59 became critically ill. Significant injuries included severe vomiting, breathing difficulties and depression of the central nervous system. Some children had to be put on ventilators. In a recent case of an alleged injury, a three-year-old girl suffered a chemical burn to the eye when she squeezed a detergent pod and the contents squirted out.
After initial complaints that Tide Pods’ packaging looked too much like a candy jar and the laundry packets themselves resembled toys or candy, Procter & Gamble and other manufacturers have tried to prevent accidents by making containers opaque, adding child-resistant closures, slapping on more warning labels and sponsoring campaigns reminding people to store them properly. So far, manufacturers have resisted additional steps such as changing the formulation or appearance of the laundry packets, or putting them in childproof containers. Many are currently still sold in plastic resealable bags that some say resemble food pouches or even candy pouches.
Young children commonly sample traditional laundry detergent but rarely get sick from it. Children also rarely become ill after biting into dishwasher soap packets, causing poison control experts to suspect that some combination of design–such as the way the liquid shoots out when the packets burst–and super-concentrated ingredients is making single-dose laundry packets more risky.
The laundry packets have been implicated in deaths of children and adults. In 2013 a 7-month-old boy in Florida died after eating an All Mighty Pacs capsule made by Sun Products Corp. That year, a 16-month-old toddler in New Jersey also died following an ingestion, though it wasn’t known which brand he consumed. Sun Products called the death a tragedy and said it has taken extra safety precautions like developing new child- resistant lids and pouches.
Poison Centers recommend storing the detergent pods in a place where toddlers cannot reach or climb to. They also recommend keeping them in cabinets with locks.
A few U.S. lawmakers are trying to impose tougher safety standards on manufacturers. Sen. Dick Durbin (D., Ill.) and Rep. Jackie Speier (D., Calif.) earlier this year proposed the Detergent Poisoning and Child Safety Act, which would require the Consumer Product Safety Commission to set rules that could force companies to make more changes to prevent accidents.