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Greg Webb
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Laundry Detergent Pods: Convenience and Clever Marketing Masks Dangers

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Many detergent manufacturers are now marketing detergents in single-use packets (detergent pods), which eliminate the need to measure out the right amount of product. But the clever packaging, a small sleek brightly colored “pod”, is dangerously attractive to toddlers.  In a report released on Monday by the National Poison Data System, in 2012 and 2013, 17,000 children (that’s about one every hour), under the age of 6, either inhaled the detergent or squirted the liquid into their eyes. Two children have died in connection with the ingestion of one of these packets. Another 6,000 were seen in emergency rooms and 750 were hospitalized. (NY Times, 11-10-14)

The pods were initially sold in Ziploc-type packaging—allowing easy access for curious toddlers, attracted to the bright colors. As one report noted, to a young child, they look like candy.  “In 80 percent of cases, the children swallowed the pods, while an additional 7.2 percent got it in their eyes, researchers found.”  Tide Pods (a Procter & Gamble Co.), by far the market leader with 80% share, are the most common object of the complaints.

According to Brian Sansoni, a spokesperson for the American Cleaning Institute, the trade group for detergent manufacturers, at least five companies “have made or are making changes regarding safety icons or opaque packaging. ” It’s uncertain as to what changes the other 5 or more detergent manufacturers’ are planning.

Dr. Fred M. Henretig, an emergency medicine doctor and senior toxicologist at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, does not believe that a simple repackaging is sufficient. Replacing the zip bags with opaque containers and adding warning labels doesn’t constitute “true child-resistant packaging” in his opinion.

This statement from Dr. Casavant fairly sums up much of what needs to happen when talking about child safety and product packaging. “The most important factor in decreasing bad outcomes for kids is to decrease the toxicity of the product itself, or decrease the ability for it to get into the hands or mouths of young children,” he said, adding, “It’s not about bad parenting.” Dr. Casavant and his colleagues are calling for better product packaging and labeling, public education and an industry wide product safety standard.  (NY Times, 11-10-14)

The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), consumer advocates and other agencies are working to develop safety standards but that may take several years. In the meantime it might be wise to go back to the unpackaged, bulk containers of detergents in households with children under the age of 4.