CDC Report: Laundry Pods Pose "Public Health Hazard"

Laundry pods make promises of ease, convenience and even environmental friendliness by subtracting big, bulky plastic detergent containers. But is Laundry 2.0 too dangerous to keep in your house?

Alarms have been raised since single-use detergent bundles hit the mass market last spring, citing the candy-like appearance which reportedly tempts some toddlers to ingest the pods. Experts say that a small amount of this concentrated detergent delivers a greater health-threat than traditional detergents. 

A report released by the CDC today labels laundry pods as a "public health hazard," citing increasing exposure to children under the age of five. 

While many sources mark the launch of laundry pods in 2010, laundry pods have been available longer than that, Brian Sansoni of the American Cleaning Institute, an association of U.S. cleaning products industry members, told GalTime. But when pods hit mass retailers in the spring, reports of exposures quickly followed. Next came what Sansoni calls "a very intensive effort by all responsible parties to share information", analyze data and release warnings to prevent further problems. 

On the heels of accounts by poison control centers and media attention, the CDC has compiled American occurances with reports filed in other countries of children mistaking the packages of concentrated detergent as candy. Over the course of one month, from mid-May to mid-June of this year, the American Association of Poison Control Centers, in conjunction with the CDC, tracked 1,008 laundry detergent exposure incidences. Ninety-four percent of those emergencies were for children aged five and under.

Related: Lithium Batteries and Babies: An Important Warning

The Symptoms

The most commonly reported symptoms from ingesting a laundry pod include vomiting, coughing or choking, eye irritation or pain, red eyes or conjuctivitis, drowsiness and lethargy, and mental status changes, the CDC notes. However, case notes compiled by the CDC include incidences in Pennsylvania and North Carolina, where toddlers who ingested the pods experienced much more serious health complications -- respiratory distress, unresponsiveness, profuse vomitting and seizures. One of those children developed a swallowing dysfunction, and all were released to home car following emergency treatment. 

While concern over children ingesting laundry pods has been growing over the course of the year, the CDC's report makes a new and important distinction in why the pods are potentially so hazardoud. Ingesting a laundry pod, the CDC delineates, is associated with more adverse health effects than pourable detergent.

Related: Are You Doing Your Laundry Wrong?

Studies conducted abroad, where pods (known as capsules, liquitabs or sachets) have been on the market for a decade, underline the hazard of concentrated forms of detergent. In the UK, a study published in the Archives of Disease in Childhood revealed that the number one household cleaning product "exposed" unhealthfully to people is laundry pods.  Of those exposed, 96% were children under the age of 5. In 80% of those cases, the pod was swallowed. 

In Milan, Italy, a national poison control study that took place in 2010 to 2011 showed a marked difference in how different kinds of detergent impacts the body -- 76% of those people exposed to laundry pods experienced symptoms, while only 27% of those exposed to "traditional laundry detergents" were symptomatic.

Laundry pod exposures are on the rise, the CDC says, however, ingestion of traditional detergents has not increased. 

How will manufacturers respond?

As the cleaning product industry is "intensifying efforts" to help avoid accidental exposure, expect to see more safety messages broadcast on television, online, in print, on packaging and on signs in retail stores, Sansoni says. 

"We want people using the products safely and effectively," he notes. 

And that, it appears, has to begin at home.

What can parents do?

"As with other household cleaners, these products should be kept out of reach and out of sight of children," the CDC advises.

"We can all understand there can be a lot of distractions [in a home where there are kids]," Sansoni said. "You could turn around for a second, and that could be one second too long."

Parents, caregivers and adult family members must "stay focused on the task at hand for any and all cleaning products," he says, to keep these products away from children and pets.

Remove packages of laundry pods from under sinks or the top of the washer or dryer, and instead, place them in a secured area or locked cabinet. Even small children can climb, so attend to the safety of the entire room where machines are housed. If you are doing laundry at a public place, do not leave pods out and accessible to any children present. Do not allow children to play unsupervised in a laundry area. Immediately seek professional medical care if you suspect your child has ingested a laundry pod or experiences symptoms of exposure.

The American Cleaning Institute also advises:

  • Do not cut or tear the product

  • Handle only with dry hands

  • Close the container completely

  • Do not store the product near food

See the full list of safety tips for laundry-pod use here.  Find good reminders for general laundry safety here. 

"We want people using products safely and effectively," Sansoni says. "Obviously, one incident is one incident too many. Very young children are getting their hands on this product. We want to eradicate that possibility. Placing the product out of sight and out of reach can go a long way to prevent any more incidences."

Do you use laundry pods in your household?

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