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The Big Number: 72,947 calls to poison control centers about liquid laundry pods

Liquid laundry detergent packets, often called pods, help make washing clothes easier. But they carry a risk of poisoning and chemical burns, especially for young children. Poison control centers got 72,947 calls for help — averaging about 40 a day — in the first six years (2012 through 2017) the pods were marketed in the United States, according to new research, published in the journal Pediatrics and based on information from the National Poison Data System. Nearly all calls — 92 percent — involved children under age 6 who had been exposed to contents of the pods, which contain highly concentrated detergent wrapped in a thin, water-soluble membrane that also may dissolve when in contact with saliva or moist skin. The pod-related injury risks include choking, as well as poisoning and chemical burns. Even if not ingested, the contents can squirt into an eye or leak onto a hand that subsequently touches an eye, resulting in a burn. Earlier research, published in the journal JAMA Ophthalmology, found that the number of chemical burns linked to laundry pods grew from 12 in 2012 to 480 in 2015. According to the more recent research, poison control calls for young children’s exposure to pod contents declined somewhat after 2015, attributed at least in part to manufacturers’ changes that made the pods look less like colorful candy and their containers more difficult to open. But calls because of ingestion of pods by older youths and adults increased dramatically (by more than 200 percent) in that time. Overall, the new data show that about two-thirds of those exposed to pod contents from 2012 to 2017 either sustained minor injuries or had no lasting effect from the exposure — but eight people died.

— Linda Searing