British Columbia’s Drug and Poison Information Centre is telling parents of children less than six years old to avoid using laundry detergent pods, saying that the number of emergency room visits due to accidental chemical exposure with laundry pods has more than doubled in the past four years.
“Parents may see these pods as easy and convenient to use, but young children can confuse them with toys or candy,” says Dr. Roy Purssell with the Centre.
In 2015, the Centre received 152 calls about children biting into or opening laundry pods, which contain higher concentrations of the toxic chemicals found in laundry detergents than found in traditional powdered or liquid detergent forms and, while easy to use, the colourful pods in the squishy packets have become a significant health hazard.
In a recent study, researchers with the Center for Injury Research and Policy of the Research Institute at Nationwide Children’s Hospital and the Central Ohio Poison Center in the United States looked at poison control centre records and hospital visits of children exposed to laundry detergent and found that the health effects of exposure to laundry pods were much more severe than those for traditional detergent forms. In fact, the odds of clinical effects, hospitalization, intubation and serious medical outcomes were all significantly higher for laundry pod exposure.
Researchers found that between January 2013 and December 2014, U.S. poison control centres took in 62,254 calls related to laundry and dishwasher detergent exposure among children younger than 6 years of age and saw a 17 per cent increase in calls connected to laundry pods.
Whereas health effects of exposure to the powdered detergent included mostly vomiting and oral and esophageal burns, the consequences of exposure to laundry pods ranged from central nervous system and respiratory depression, injury to the cornea, heart problems, coma and even death.
Due to the clearly evident health risks, the study’s authors recommended that parents with young children use traditional powdered or liquid laundry soap. “We want parents to know this is just different than the detergent they grew up with. This one’s a different animal.” says Henry Spiller, director of the Central Ohio Poison Centre and so-author of the study.
Along with warnings for parents, health advocates are pushing for companies to do more to protect children from the toxic chemicals in their products. In September, 2015, U.S. detergent makers agreed to support new voluntary safety standards for the packaging of laundry pods, a move greeted with skepticism by some, including Dr. Gary Smith, director of the Center for Injury Research and co-author of the above study, who wants firmer regulation of the industry.
“This voluntary standard is a good first step, but it needs to be strengthened,” says Dr. Smith. “Unless this unacceptably high number of exposures declines dramatically, manufacturers need to continue to find ways to make this product and its packaging safer for children.”
Although laundry and dishwasher detergent in both powder and liquid forms have been household staples for generations, it wasn’t until 2012 that companies began selling detergent pods in North America. In that same year, Health Canada issued a warning about the health hazard for children of detergent pods.