The Dirty Secret of Laundry Detergent Pods

New study finds increased risk of accidental poisoning in kids

Laundry detergent pods are facing renewed scrutiny after the medical journal Pediatrics released a new study on them today. It found that between 2012 and 2013, more than 17,000 children were exposed to laundry-pod chemicals, usually after eating the colorfully packaged products. 

The study reviewed information from the National Poison Data System, focusing on incidents in which children under age 6 ingested the chemicals and needed immediate care.

Tide first made the convenient pods popular in February 2012, with competitors soon following suit. Sales of single-dose detergents topped $779 million for the year ending Oct. 5, 2014, reported The Wall Street Journal. The newspaper raised concerns about accidental poisonings related to the pods a year ago. 

The study also noted that exposure to laundry chemicals increased by a massive 645.3 percent from March 2012 to April 2013, although there was a decrease of 25.1 percent from April 2013 to December 2013. Ingestion was the main cause of poisoning, with 4.4 percent of those children requiring hospitalization and 7.5 percent experiencing what the study called a "moderate or major medical outcome." One death was linked to the pods, the study found.

"Laundry detergent pods pose a serious poisoning risk to young children," the authors noted in the journal. "This nationwide study underscores the need for increased efforts to prevent exposure of young children to these products, which may include improvements in product packaging and labeling, development of a voluntary product safety standard and public education."

The American Cleaning Institute, the industry association that covers laundry products, released a statement shortly after the study went public, noting, "Manufacturers of liquid laundry detergent packets are very committed to reducing the number of children involved in accidents with these products, which are used safely by millions of consumers. ACI and its member companies have directly engaged parents and caregivers, as well as poison control centers, pediatricians and other medical professionals, educators and social service providers in alerting them to the potential for childhood accidents if these products are not properly stored.”

Manufacturers have taken some measures, the association noted, like creating more visible safety icons, improving warning labels and changing the packaging to be opaque, rather than clear, to avoid looking like colorful candy in a jar. The institute also noted that it joined with manufacturers to launch a campaign last year to educate parents and caregivers on the safe handling and storage of pods. The campaign has reached millions of people, the group said.