Safety Standards Aren't Protecting Kids From Detergent Pods

The packaging clearly says to keep them away from children, but even with the warning, these pods put children at risk. (Photo: Mike Mozart/Flickr)

Several years ago, MNN blogger Matt Hickman wrote about the rising incidents of children being poisoned by an emerging product, detergent pods. Young children can mistake the colorful pods for candy, ingesting them or ripping open the plastic coatings and getting the harsh chemicals on their skin or in their eyes.

Detergent pods had been out for less than a year. During that time, the American Association of Poison Control Centers reported that 2,950 children had been poisoned by the pods.

That number has increased greatly since then. A new study in the journal Pediatrics says the packets have been identified as a, "poison hazard associated with serious medical outcomes, including central nervous system and respiratory depression, eye injuries, pneumonitis and death..

The study found that from January 2012 through December 2017, U.S. poison control centers received 72,947 calls related to liquid laundry detergent packet exposures. During 2017, there was an average of one call about every 42 minutes.

In 2013, detergent manufacturers began changing packaging, including adding latches and warning labels. The American Academy of Pediatrics and other advocacy organizations kicked off safety campaigns about the dangers of the packets. Manufacturers adopted voluntary new safety standards in 2015.

However, between 2015 and 2017, the rate of exposure of these packets to children under 6 decreased by only 18%. For kids older than 6, the rate of exposure rose about 277%. In the study, researchers conclude that the packet safety standard should be strengthened.

"The voluntary standard, public awareness campaigns, and product and packaging changes to-date are good first steps, but the numbers are still unacceptably high," said Gary Smith, MD, DrPH, senior author of the study and director of the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children's Hospital, in a statement. "We can do better."

A parent's choice

When Matt wrote about the pods years ago, he had another solution. If you have young kids in the house, he said, "don't buy them despite their obvious benefits." If you do, he suggested, keep them out of reach or lock them up.

I'd go with his first suggestion — don't buy them. What other product, other than perhaps a car, would any parent purchase that had the real potential to harm a child every hour? Laundry detergent pods may be convenient for some people, but is that convenience worth the risk? The huge numbers can't all be chalked up to bad parenting.

There is always the chance of human error, even with the most vigilant of parents. The New York Times tells the story of one mother who kept the pods on a high shelf, but one accidentally fell on the ground and she didn't realize it. When her 18-month-old son ate the pod, he ended up in intensive care for three days. She has switched back to liquid detergent.

I don't buy pods because they're more expensive, and I don't think the convenience of tossing a pod into the washer as opposed to pouring liquid detergent warrants the expense at all. I also don't have young children anymore. But, if I did buy the pods for convenience sake and had young children, I would stop using them.