Experts Warn Detergent Pods Dangerous to Children, More Incidents Expected in VA

Credit: California Poison Control

As a result of the poisoning of five young children in Virginia in the past two months, local professionals strongly urge parents to exercise caution in the purchase of single-use laundry detergent pods.

“Poison control centers nationwide are reporting an increase in calls about children under the age of five swallowing these laundry pods,” Prince William County Department of Fire & Rescue Public Education Coordinator Robert Wall said.

Of the incidents in Virginia, one was a skin exposure, while the other four children, ranging from 11 months to two years old, had ingested the product.

Household product manufacturer Proctor and Gamble, the maker of Tide Pods, as well as several other companies introduced the concentrated laundry products last March. However across the nation, children are confusing the containers of colorfully swirled detergent pods for candy.

“The packets are sweet smelling, colorful and attractive to small children,” said Dr. Cathleen Clancy, Associate Medical Director for D.C.-based National Capital Poison Center.

While there have been no deaths, Wall said nearly 250 cases around the country have been reported to poison control centers this year. Experts fear that figure could rise.

“The more people who have these, the more kids will be exposed,” Clancy said. “There is a learning curve and people are becoming aware of the dangers; however, once the [initial] news reports stop, the more frequently it will happen.”

The convenience of these products in part comes from the product’s design; these detergent pods are significantly more concentrated than high-efficiency laundry detergents. However, this concentration of ingredients (P&G lists 26) also increases the danger for children who are exposed.

“These items are clearly more dangerous than your typical laundry detergent,” Wall said.

If a child is exposed to or ingests the chemicals in the detergent pods, the effects of the poisons are quickly noticeable.

“Within a matter of minutes, you’ll see symptoms which include rapid vomiting, nausea, coughing, and difficulty breathing,” he said.

The American Association of Poison Control Centers provided the following descriptions of incidents where children have become ill from ingesting concentrated laundry detergent packets:

  • Ten minutes after a 20-month-old swallowed a laundry detergent packet, the child developed profuse vomiting, wheezing and gasping and then became unresponsive to even painful stimuli.
  • A 15-month-old who bit into a pack and swallowed a mouthful had profuse vomiting and, after arrival at a hospital, had to be put on a ventilator for airway protection.
  • A 17-month-old bit into a packet and then rapidly developed drowsiness, vomited, breathed the product into the lungs, and had to be put on a ventilator.

Treatment for the poisoning focuses on diluting the toxic ingredients of the product and addressing the child’s immediate medical needs.

“The treatment would be to try to wipe the child’s mouth out, offer the child water or milk, but only if the child is awake and alert,” Clancy said.

Medical staff would monitor the child’s breathing and if there was difficulty, a ventilator or oxygen might be employed, she said.

As a reaction to the controversy, P&G announced that the company would make Tide Pods more difficult to open.

A double latch will be put on the lid of Tide Pods tubs and should be in markets in the next couple of weeks, P&G spokesman Paul Fox said in May.

To prevent an accident, AAPCC recommends parents take the following steps:

  • Keep detergents locked up and out of the reach of children.
  • Follow the specific disposal instructions on the label.
  • If a child has been exposed to a laundry detergent packet, call your local poison center at 1-800-222-1222 immediately.

“If you think a child has been exposed to a laundry detergent packet, call your local poison center immediately. So far there have been no reports of deaths, but if not treated immediately, children are greatly at risk of fatalities,” Wall said.

© 2012, Bristow Beat. All rights reserved.

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