In 2012 and 2013, 17,230 children age 6 and under were exposed to the contents of laundry detergent pods, resulting in 769 hospitalizations and one death. Most of the affected children were 1 or 2 years old, and most had ingested the detergent. Companies that package and sell detergent pods have an opportunity to improve product safety by educating parents and making the products less appealing to children.
The National Poison Data System, which collected the poisoning information for a study that “Pediatrics” published in 2014, reported that of the 904 poisoning cases for which they had information about how the children accessed the pods, 382 involved cases in which caregivers left the pods within children’s sight. In 233 cases, the pods were within children’s reach because the caregiver was distracted or because the pods were improperly stored.
According to ABC News, Dr. Gary Smith, lead author of the 2014 study, is encouraged by detergent manufacturers’ plans to develop laundry detergent pod packaging and labeling standards to increase safety and awareness. Some manufacturers have already taken steps in this direction, and the American Cleaning Institute, a detergent-manufacturing industry organization, encourages all manufacturers to take similar action.
A social media campaign addressing consumers’ concerns and increasing education could do wonders to teach parents how to prevent accidental poisoning by storing detergent pods in a locked cabinet, out of children’s sight and reach. Facebook pages and promotional emails are two easy ways manufacturers can reach out to consumers. The medical community should support these efforts. An earlier article in “Pediatrics” recommends that pediatricians teach parents first-aid measures to reduce the likelihood of serious injury from accidental poisoning while they await medical treatment.
The manufacturers face challenges on several fronts. From a practical standpoint, the detergent pods’ outer membrane is designed to disintegrate quickly when it comes into contact with water. This is necessary for property distribution of the detergent in the washer, but a child who picks one up with wet hands could wind up with a handful of detergent. Proper labeling and other consumer education efforts can overcome this challenge.
The other challenge is in the pods’ appearance. This is an easier issue to resolve because the pleasing appearance is primarily a marketing function. Those swirls of bright colors that catch adult consumers’ attention may tempt children to touch the pods or even associate them with candy. Manufacturers should change the aesthetic design to one with a color and texture that’s less likely to entice children.
Improving safety is a tremendous responsibility, and it’s one borne by every product manufacturer. The cleaning-product industry’s handling of the dangers posed by laundry detergent pods has the potential to set an outstanding example for the handling of future product safety issues.
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