PhotoThey're colorful and convenient, but laundry detergent pods are hazardous to children's health -- more dangerous than exposure to ordinary detergent, according to a new study. 

A review of cases finds that the most serious clinical effects such as coma, trouble breathing, heart problems, and death, were seen in children exposed to the chemicals in laundry detergent packets rather than other types of detergent.

At least one child a day in the U.S. was admitted to a hospital due to a laundry detergent packet exposure during the period studied. The two child deaths in the study were both associated with exposure to laundry detergent packets.

The study, published online today in Pediatrics, was conducted by the Center for Injury Research and Policy of the Research Institute at Nationwide Children's Hospital and the Central Ohio Poison Center.

It found that from January 2013 through December 2014, poison control centers received 62,254 calls related to laundry and dishwasher detergent exposures among children younger than 6 years old, with laundry detergent packets accounting for nearly half of all incidents. Dishwashing detergent packets accounted for only 5% of the incidents while traditional laundry detergent made up 17%.

Incidents related to laundry detergent packets saw the biggest rise - increasing 17% over the two year study period. Poison control centers received more than 30 calls a day about children who had been exposed to a laundry detergent packet, which is about one call every 45 minutes.

"Unacceptably high"

A new voluntary safety standard was adopted in 2015, calling for less colorful packaging and a foul-tasting coating, but the standard may not go far enough, 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.

"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," Smith said.

What to do

Experts recommend that families with children younger than 6 years old use traditional detergent instead of packets.

"Many families don't realize how toxic these highly concentrated laundry detergent packets are," said Marcel J. Casavant, MD, co-author of the study chief of toxicology at Nationwide Children's Hospital, and medical director of the Central Ohio Poison Center. "Use traditional laundry detergent when you have young kids in your home. It isn't worth the risk when there is a safer and effective alternative available."

Casavant recommends that parents and caregivers follow these steps to ensure children's safety:

  • Use traditional laundry detergent, which is much less toxic than laundry detergent packets.
  • Store all laundry detergent, including packets, up, away, and out of sight, preferably in a locked cabinet.
  • Close laundry detergent packet packages or containers and put them away immediately after use.
  • Save the national Poison Help Line number (1-800-222-1222) in your cell phone and post it near your home phones.

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