By Megan Boyle, Editorial Director, Healthy Child Healthy World
Reproduced with the permission of the Environmental Working Group
Those small, attractive objects in many families’ laundry rooms could pose a big danger to your children’s health.
Effective, convenient and popular, laundry detergent pods are small packets of concentrated liquid detergent that dissolve quickly in water. They make it easy to throw in a load of laundry without pouring or measuring detergent. But because of their size, shape and bright, appealing colors, the pods can look like candy – and be tempting to young children.
Since laundry pods hit the U.S. market in 2012, thousands of children have been injured by eating, inhaling or touching the concentrated liquid. In just the first 10 months of this year, parents and caregivers reported 10,497 cases of children under age 5 being sickened by pods to poison centers around the country – a number that’s on track to exceed the total 11,714 reported cases in 2014.
Often packaged in transparent, easy-to-open containers, laundry pods can dissolve in a child’s mouth or burst open if they’re bitten or squeezed. These exposures can make children cough, choke or vomit, suffer burns to their eyes or skin or go into respiratory distress, sometimes requiring intubation. Tragically, in the most serious cases, children have died.
Adding to the danger is the industry’s failure to disclose what chemicals are in the concentrated liquids. Injuries from laundry pods tend to be more severe than those caused by swallowing or handling regular liquid or powder detergents.
The hazards of laundry pods are increasingly drawing the attention of parents, scientists, manufacturers and legislators worldwide.
In March, the Organization for European Co-operation and Development (OECD) partnered with 26 consumer product safety authorities from five continents to launch the Campaign on Laundry Detergent Capsules. Then in June the European Commission issued mandatory regulations aimed at protecting children. Under the European rules, all pods must be packaged in opaque containers with child-resistant closures and warning labels. The pods must be slower to dissolve and contain a bitter flavor agent so children will spit out the liquid before swallowing.
Several U.S. manufacturers have already adopted these standards, including Procter & Gamble, which makes more than 75 percent of the laundry detergent pods sold here. In September the federal Consumer Product Safety Commission approved a voluntary safety standard on how quickly the pods dissolve and how they’re packaged. But these standards, which were negotiated in cooperation with the cleaning product industry, do not address ingredient disclosure or safety.
Legislation is pending in Congress to formalize the regulations. In February, Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois and Rep. Jackie Speier of California introduced the Detergent Poisoning and Child Safety (PACS) Act, which would direct the Commission to set an official safety standard for detergent pods.
Advocacy groups are also taking action. Consumer Reports excludes pods from its list of recommended laundry detergents because of the dangers. And it strongly recommends that families with children under age 6 do not use liquid-containing pods at all. (It is less restrictive about pods that contain powder, because injuries they cause are typically less common and less severe.)
At Healthy Child Healthy World we agree that it’s best to avoid these products until the dangers to children have been substantially reduced. If you do use laundry detergent pods, always keep them in a secure, locked cabinet out of the reach of children. Follow instructions carefully and don’t use them when children are watching. If you think your child has been exposed, contact your local poison center immediately at (800) 222-1222.