Consumer Reports is urging that households where children younger than 6 years old live or visit avoid liquid detergent pods, warning that the youngsters may mistake them for candy or toys and bite them or otherwise become exposed to the chemicals inside.
"When curious kids find their way into regular liquid laundry detergent, the result is often nothing worse than an upset stomach. Laundry detergent pods are presenting more serious symptoms. Along with vomiting, lethargy, and delirium, some victims have stopped breathing," the non-profit group said.
Since the products went on the market in 2012, there have been growing reports of children being sickened after being exposed to the highly concentrated detergent inside the packets. Many of those children were hospitalized and some needed to be intubated. Two children died.
"The product is a convenient, often effective way to do the laundry -- and it's a serious health hazard for young children," Consumer Reports wrote in announcing its recommendation.
Last year, 11,714 reports of incidents involving kids aged 5 and younger and laundry detergent pods were reported to poison control centers nationwide. In the first six months of this year, there were more than 6,000.
Gary Smith, director of the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, told HealthDay News that "parents need to make an informed decision if they bring these products into their homes."
Consumer Reports has been calling on manufacturers to make them safer since shortly after they were introduced. Recently, a number of companies have been making changes to make them less attractive to children (by adding a bitter taste) and harder to get in to (strengthening the protective plastic around the detergent).
Consumer Reports has removed the pods from its list of recommended laundry detergents. The organization said its position on laundry detergent pods do not apply to those that contain powder because injuries with them are less frequent and less severe.
While no one disputes the fact that there have been some real tragedies related to the pods, Christopher Ingraham, a writer for The Washington Post's Wonkblog, has argued that "everybody needs to stop freaking out about laundry pods." In a post earlier this year, he argues that the risk to an individual children is tiny as compared to other potential dangers.
Referring to the 2013 numbers, he wrote:
Eleven thousand poison control center calls is a big number. On the other hand, in that same year there were also 11,000 calls related to pens and ink, 15,000 for air fresheners, 19,000 for deodorant, 20,000 for hand sanitizers and 40,000 for bleach. In the total universe of Things That Are Dangerous To Kids, calls about laundry pods rank somewhere between glue and soap.
It is true that that major injury rate as a percent of all exposures for laundry pods is higher than for other types of detergent or household cleaner — but again, we're talking about differences in the realm of fractions of a percent. And overall, accidental poisoning is not really that much of a danger to kids — especially compared with the leading causes of death among children.
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