Laundry pods can look like candy or a juice box to young children.Getty Images

U.S. poison control centers received more than 17,000 calls — or about one per hour — about children who'd been exposed to chemicals in laundry detergent pods in 2012 and 2013, a new study found.

Over 700 of the children were hospitalized, and one child died, researchers said.

“This caught us by surprise,” said Dr. Gary Smith, the study’s lead author from the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio.

Laundry detergent pods were introduced to the U.S. market in 2012.Smith and his colleagues write in the journal Pediatrics that doctors have previously reported on kids who've eaten or burst the pods with serious consequences, such as being hospitalized and put on a ventilator for several days.


Overall, the poison control centers received 17,230 calls about children younger than 6 who were somehow exposed to the liquid in laundry detergent pods. That’s roughly four calls per 10,000 children in that age group, according to the researchers.

About a third of the calls involved children between the ages of 1 and 2.

“This is an age group that has newfound mobility,” Smith said. “They’re curious and they don’t sense danger.” Children may think the colorful pods are candy or filled with juice, he said.About 80 percent of all calls involved children swallowing the pods or their liquids.

Health problems

Exposure to the pods or their liquids can cause vomiting, coughing and choking, eye irritation or pain and tiredness. Serious side effects included comas, seizures and stomach burns.

While the researchers can’t say for sure that the detergents in the pods are more powerful than traditional laundry detergent, the symptoms after exposure to the pods seem more serious, Smith said.

“These are severe symptoms that we haven’t seen in the past with traditional laundry detergent that we’re now seeing with these new pods,” he said.“The symptoms are a very broad spectrum. It’s not only the amount, but the route of exposure too.”

Dr. Michael Gray of the Abrahamson Pediatric Eye Institute at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center in Ohio recently wrote about 10 cases of laundry detergent pod exposures, and cited scratches on the cornea as another concern, caused by the chemicals in the pods.

Take precautions

Smith said parents need to recognize the toxicity of these laundry detergent pods. They also need to close the packages and put them away in a locked cabinet.

Though Smith commended the industry for moving in the right direction by crafting new and more child-resistant containers, none of thecurrent packaging is truly child resistant.

“These are continuing examples of a systemic problem we have in this country,” he said. “It’s that our products are designed by adults for the use and convenience of adults.”

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