A story in yesterday's editions of The Washington Post incorrectly identified the poison control center consulted by a physician at Children's Hospital in the case of a child who swallowed laundry detergent. The center consulted was at Children's Hospital, not Georgetown University.
Children's Hospital and a laundry detergent manufacturer agreed yesterday to pay $125,000 in an out-of-court settlement to the parents of a 15-month-old Seat Pleasant boy who died after drinking some of the product.
The payment is being made in connection with the 1979 death of Olando Binion Jr., who died shortly after drinking a half cup of Heavy Duty Liquid All. Binion's death subsequently was ruled by the D.C. Medical Examiner to have been caused by ingestion of the detergent.
Under terms of the settlement, approved yesterday by D.C. Superior Court Judge John F. Doyle, the boy's parents, Olando and Eloise Binion, will be paid $90,000 by the hospital and $35,000 by All's manufacturer, Lever Brothers Co., of New York, sources familiar with the case said. Neither Lever Brothers nor the hospital admitted fault in agreeing to the settlement.
According to court papers, the boy apparently drank the liquid detergent after his mother, Eloise, filled half of a measuring cup with liquid All and placed it on a table while she was sorting laundry on Feb. 11, 1979. A short while later, the papers show, she saw the infant with the cup of detergent in his hand and blue liquid on his mouth and clothes.
Following instructions that appeared on the product's label at the time, she gave her son milk, then grapefruit juice and took him to the Children's Hospital emergency room. After checking with the National Capital poison center at Georgetown University, a physician there told the mother that the detergent was not dangerous and the trip to the hospital was not necessary.
A short time after the family returned home, however, Olando stopped breathing. Though he eventually was taken back to Children's Hospital, he later died, according to court papers.
Lawyers for the Binions, who filed a suit seeking a total of $6 million in damages, claimed the hospital failed to examine and treat the boy and that the label on the detergent bottle did not adequately warn users the product might be dangerous.
"It would be worth going through this case if just one life is saved," Eloise Binion said yesterday. "Maybe . . . the household product companies will make their products safer and give better warnings that their product can kill, and maybe it will make the hospitals and doctors more careful when a little child is brought there."
Richard W. Boone, an attorney who represented Lever Brothers, said the labeling was in "compliance with every known government regulation which even remotely bears upon the contents of a warning label of a consumer product" and said there were no changes contemplated. Children's Hospital attorneys could not be reached for comment.
According to Dr. Toby Litovitz, director of Georgetown's poison center, deaths caused by ingestion of laundry detergents are rare. Litivitz said that, although the chemicals used in detergents are slightly more toxic today than they were before manufacturers shifted away from high-phosphate products, detergents are considered relatively safe. Litovitz, who was to have testified as a witness for Children's Hospital had the case come to trial, declined further comment on the case.
According to an attorney close to the case, the label on the detergent ingested by Binion cautioned that, "if swallowed, give water or milk. Follow with citrus juice or diluted vinegar. In case of eye contact, flush well with water. Call a physician." It also urged, "Keep out of reach of children" and warned "Caution: Harmful if swallowed. Eye Irritant . . . "
The Binion's attorney, Jack H. Olender, said yesterday that the product's label should have displayed symbols dramatizing the potential danger if the liquid is drunk.
Bottles of Liquid All sold today no longer makes any reference to the product being harmful if swallowed. A two-quart bottle purchased yesterday at the Giant store at Ninth and O streets NW noted, "Caution: eye irritant. See cautions on back" and "Caution: In case of eye contact, flush well with water. Call a physician. Keep out of reach of children."
A spokesman for Lever Brothers said yesterday that the warning about ingestion is no longer included because the product's formula was changed in 1979 and contains no harmful phosphates.
The spokesman said the decision to eliminate phosphates was done to bring the product in line with the laws in some localities that ban the chemical. He said the change in formula had "absolutely nothing" to do with the Binion incident.
Fred Marozzi, an official with the Consumer Product Safety Administration, said yesterday that consumers can thus assume that Lever Brothers' performed safety tests required by federal law, and determined that All is not toxic according to present government standards.