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Come Clean! Detergent Pods are Dangerous to Kids

— September 17, 2015

The convenient laundry detergent pods are actually dangerous to your children. More and more toddlers are being accidentally poisoned each year because they mistake the pods for teething toys or candy, bite down and wither inhale or eat the detergent inside. ASTM International, a global standards development organization, just released the first standard for laundry detergent pods.

It’s laundry day! It’s also no school day for the kids and it’s raining. Energy levels (except yours, maybe) are on high and then some. You’ve just finished loading the washer and you’re about to toss in a detergent pod when you hear, “Moooooommmm!” from the other room. You rush out to see what’s the matter and your ever-curious wee one discovers the box of pods. According to ASTM International, a global standards development organization, it’s time for pod producers to come clean! Detergent pods are dangerous to kids.

Why? Those most at risk are the wee ones who often mistake the brightly colored pods for teething toys or candy. They bite in, expecting a sweet treat only to swallow or inhale laundry detergent. Every year, greater numbers of kids are accidentally poisoned by laundry detergent pods, according to the American Association of Poison Control Centers.


Its data shows that 11,862 kids younger than six were poisoned in 2014. That number is up from 2013, during which 10,273 kids chomped down on a laundry detergent pod. The year-to-date data for 2015 (through August) shows 8,428 cases, an increased of over 500 cases than the same time last year. The Association projects that the number of 2015 cases will break 2014’s record at this rate.

ASTM is an organization that works to establish product standards. It issued the first standard for labeling and packaging laundry detergent pods on Tuesday as a result of negotiations with industry reps, medical & consumer groups and the federal Consumer Product Safety Commission over the last year.

The ASTM standard is not law, however. Manufacturers may choose to comply or not. However in July, Consumer Reports stopped recommending laundry detergent pods “until the adoption of tougher safety measures leads to a meaningful drop in injuries.” That should certainly serve as some incentive to pod producers. The Consumer Product Safety Commission could issue recalls of non-compliant product, though.

The suggestions found in the new ASTM standard include:

  • Adding a bitter taste to the dissolvable skin of the pods to discourage kids from putting pods in their mouths
  • Increasing the time it takes for the skin to dissolve
  • Making containers more difficult for kids to open by increasing the levels of strength or dexterity required
  • Selling the pods in opaque containers (some do) so the brightly colored pods don’t tempt kids
  • Adding warning labels on the front and back of every container

The ASTM standard’s reception has been mixed. The executive vice president of technical affairs for the industry group, the American Cleaning Institute, believes the suggestions will greatly reduce the incidents of accidental poisoning by laundry detergent pods.

However, ER doctor and senior toxicologist at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, Dr. Frederick M. Henretig, thinks the bitter taste idea is “ludicrous.” He went on to say, “Kids bite into these things almost instantly as they pop them into their mouths.” He is in favor of developing truly child-resistant packaging, though. He said, “The game is won in keeping it out of the kid’s mouth. Once it goes in, it’s game over.”

Dr. Steven M. Marcus, executive and medical director at the New Jersey Poison Information & Education System, posed the following question.

“If you are going to go through the process of making the outer container opaque, why not make the pod itself opaque?”

Dr. Marcus’ belief is that the ASTM standard is “better than nothing, but I have grave doubts it will make a big difference in unintentional poisonings.”

Elliot F. Kaye, chairman of the Consumer Product Safety Commission, sort of agrees with Dr. Marcus, saying, “The creation of a standard that has these elements is better than the lack of one, no doubt about that.”

So far, there have been zero suggestions that laundry detergent pod producers do away with the pods’ tempting bright colors or make the detergent itself less toxic to kids. Mr. Kaye adds that if the number of accidental poisonings doesn’t decrease once the suggestions are put into practice, the group that negotiated the standard may reconvene to discuss the toxicity issue.


Child Safety Measures for Packaging of Laundry Pods Are Approved

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