MedicalResearch.com Interview with:
Dr. Gary Smith, MD PhD
Director, Center for Injury Research and Policy
Nationwide Children’s Hospital
MedicalResearch.com: What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?
Dr. Smith: Laundry detergent packets are relatively new to the U.S. market (introduced in 2012). As their popularity has increased, so have calls to poison centers for detergent packet exposures. The study analyzed calls to poison centers and compared exposures to young children from dishwasher and laundry detergent packets as well as traditional (liquid and powder) dishwasher and laundry detergents.
Incidents related to laundry detergent packets saw the biggest rise – increasing 17% over the two-year study period. Poison control centers received more than 30 calls a day on average about a child who had been exposed to a laundry detergent packet, which is about one call about every 45 minutes. Claims made by others that the rate of exposures is decreasing are misleading – these claims are based on an inappropriate use of numbers.
Children exposed to laundry detergent packets were significantly more likely to be admitted to a healthcare facility or have a serious medical outcome than those exposed to other types of detergent. They were also more likely to have serious clinical effects. Coma, pulmonary edema, respiratory arrest, and death were only observed among children exposed to laundry detergent packets.
MedicalResearch.com: What makes these laundry detergent packets more dangerous than traditional liquid or powder laundry detergent?
- Concentrated detergent packets may be good for sales but not for children.
- There are differences in chemical composition and concentration.
- Packets often resemble candy or juice, and are the perfect size for a young child to grab and put in their mouth.
- The water-soluble membrane will quickly begin to dissolve in their mouth, and/or pop when the child bites it, which shoots concentrated detergent down their throat and into their airway.
MedicalResearch.com: What should clinicians and patients take away from your report?
- The best parent in the world cannot watch their children every second. In the time it takes a parent to reach for a pair of socks in the laundry, a child can grab a laundry detergent packet and put it in his mouth.
- There are safer and effective alternatives to laundry detergent packets. We recommend that households where children younger than 6 years of age live or visit use traditional (liquid or powder) laundry detergent.
- If parents decide to use laundry detergent packets, then store them up, away, and out of sight – in a locked cabinet is best.
- Close laundry detergent packet packages or containers and put them away immediately after use.
- Save the national Poison Help Line number (1-800-222-1222) in your cell phone and post it near your home phones.
MedicalResearch.com: What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?
- Future research should continue to evaluate calls to poison control centers regarding pediatric exposures to laundry detergent packets to determine the effectiveness of the recently implemented ASTM voluntary safety standard and changes made by manufacturers, such as packaging changes.
- Future research should evaluate the effectiveness of campaigns to educate parents and child caregivers about the proper use and storage of laundry detergent packets. Several parties have initiated such campaigns, including industry and child safety organizations.
MedicalResearch.com: Is there anything else you would like to add?
- This is not primarily a parenting problem. Rather, this is another example of a highly dangerous product being introduced into the places where young children live and play without adequate regard for child safety. Because we have a safer effective alternative to laundry detergent packets, it is unacceptable that children are being rushed to emergency departments in coma, respiratory failure, and dying. Child safety should be put first.
- The Consumers Union has recommended that this product not be used, which is only the second time in its history that it has made such a strong statement.
- In an effort to reduce unintentional exposures to the contents of laundry detergent packets, ASTM published a voluntary Standard Safety Specification for Liquid Laundry Packets in 2015 (http://www.astm.org/Standards/F3159.htm), but some experts feel it does not go far enough.
Pediatric Exposures to Laundry and Dishwasher Detergents in the United States: 2013–2014
Mallory G. Davis, Marcel J. Casavant, Henry A Spiller, Thiphalak Chounthirath, Gary A. Smith
Pediatrics May 2016, DOI: 10.1542/peds.2015-4529