Childhood exposure to laundry detergent packets is on the rise, resulting in a string of life-threatening medical problems and even death, according to a new report.
The study, published in the journal Pediatrics, discovered that, between January 2013 and December 2014, U.S. Poison Control Centers received 62,254 emergency phone calls involving children under the age of six ingesting laundry and dishwasher detergent. The study encompassed calls about both traditional detergent and detergent packets. Among the two, detergent packets made up 60 percent of the phone calls received.
“We found that the majority of poisonings were due to exposure to laundry detergent packets and unfortunately it was precisely those products that were causing the greatest toxicity,” lead author of the study, Dr. Gary Smith, director of the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, told CBS News.
A spike in childhood detergent poisonings
Smith and his colleagues found that nearly half, or 45 percent, of all calls related to exposure to laundry detergent packets were referenced to a healthcare facility for treatment. Over the course of the two-year study, phones calls related to childhood exposure to traditional laundry detergent packets rose by 17 percent, and dishwasher detergent packets by 14 percent.
On average, the poison control centers receive more than 30 phone calls a day about children who have accidentally ingested a laundry detergent packet. This corresponds to roughly one poisoning-related phone call every 45 minutes.
Children who ingested laundry detergent packets had the most severe adverse reactions in the study, including coma, difficulties breathing and heart problems. Two child deaths occurred in the review, which were directly related to consuming a laundry detergent packet.
The researchers claim the results of the study confirm that laundry packets are more toxic than other detergents, such as laundry powder and dishwasher packets. “Differences in chemical composition and concentration between laundry detergent packets and other types of detergents may account for the higher toxicity observed,” the researchers noted.
The packets were introduced into the United States in 2012 as an alternative to detergent powder. Children may have gravitated towards these packets because of their vivid color and potent smell. Some of these contain granules, which can double the risk of a child being admitted to an emergency room when ingested.
Children under the age of three comprised the bulk of the cases in the study. Approximately 16 percent of children exposed to dishwasher detergent and 30 percent of children exposed to laundry detergent were two years old.
“Children at this age will explore their environment by putting things in their mouth and if they simply bite down on one of these things, they’ll burst and those contents will shoot to the back of their throat,” Smith commented.
What parents can do
Adding to these remarks, Smith urged parents to treat laundry detergent like any other household poison:
“They should be kept up away and out of sight of children and preferably in a locked cabinet, because really the time it takes you to pick up a pair of dirty socks and throw them into the laundry is all it’s going to take for a child to put one of these in their mouth, bite down, and have it squirt down their throat.”
In order to minimize childhood exposure to laundry detergent packets, ASTM, an international standards organization, devised a Standard Safety Specification for Liquid Laundry Packets in 2015. In wake of the recent study, however, Smith believes these specifications need to be updated.
“This voluntary standard is a good first step, but it needs to be strengthened,” he said. “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.”
To keep your children safe from laundry detergent, consider storing your detergent in out-of-sight, hard-to-reach places or in a locked cabinet or making the switch to natural, non-toxic detergent.