Safety standards coming for laundry detergent packets

Arelis R. Hernandez / Orlando Sentinel /

Published Sep 7, 2013 at 05:00AM

ORLANDO, Fla. — They’re gummy and vibrant, like candy. And when ingested, single-load laundry-detergent packets are sending kids to emergency rooms across the nation.

In Florida, newly released data show 252 children age 5 and younger became ill this year through July after exposure to laundry detergent packets, according to state poison control centers. Nationwide, poison control centers have recorded thousands of incidents in which children 5 and younger were exposed to the gelatinous pouches of cleaning chemicals during the same time period.

The data illustrate the reason for growing concern in public-safety circles about the toxicity and marketing of the trendy detergent packets, which may have been responsible for what officials confirmed would be the nation’s first reported death linked to the product.

Even before a 7-month-old swallowed a laundry packet at a Kissimmee women’s shelter, federal officials and industry leaders agreed to draw up voluntary safety standards for the increasingly popular laundry innovation.

“The ingredients are poisonous — and we don’t use that term lightly,” said Scott Wolfson, spokesman for the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission of the single-load liquid-detergent packets. “We are not taking a soft approach because we are dealing with a very tragic situation.”

It will take weeks before medical examiners confirm whether the detergent caused the Kissimmee infant’s death.

But officials are putting pressure on manufacturers to act swiftly. The American Cleaning Institute — a trade organization representing the cleaning-product industry — in June launched a safety campaign to focus attention on the dangers the products present to children.

The organization has developed educational materials and a set of safety reminders for parents.

Many exposures occurred when parents were doing the laundry with children in the same room. A distraction that takes Mom or Dad away creates an opportunity for a youngster to grab the toxic product.

“The rationale is that this is a newer laundry innovation and it’s so easy for everyone to be on autopilot and not think about the product that they are holding in their hands,” said ACI spokeswoman Nancy Bock.

Making the tubs containing the packets opaque and putting warning labels on them — something Procter & Gamble has done for Tide Pods — are ways the industry is addressing the issue.

The industry is going a step further by creating a new logo warning parents to keep the packets out of reach of children and to avoid squeezing the packets, which can rupture easily.

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