Individual detergent gel packets are safety concern for children

Individual detergent gel packets are safety concern for children (Image 1)

A newly designed detergent pod packs a punch, with a high concentration of detergent and a sleek design.

The powerful pods make cleaning dishes or laundry easy, but the colorful, squishy packets are easily toxic.

“The danger is they really look a lot like candy,” said Sarah Haverstick, Safe Children Program Manager at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. “Young children are naturally very curious, and they learn by touching things in their environment and often by putting them in their mouth. And that little plastic coating (on the Pod) is meant to be dissolvable, because you want it to be able to wash your clothes, so it's really easy to really quickly harm a child.”

Detergent pods, designed for washing machine or dishwasher use, are among a multitude of household products that can be mistaken for safe items by kids.

Product design features, including shape and color, for potentially hazardous materials can look like food and drinks that are familiar to a child. For example, apple juice is the same color as common floor cleaner.

“They can't read the label,” Haverstick said. “The packaging actually looks pretty similar. And the juice is the exact same color inside. So, 'Why can't I drink this? I don't know the difference. This seems like it could be perfectly fine.'”

Haverstick helps run Champ's Corner Store, a safety shop in the Monroe Carell Jr. Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt.

Named after the hospital's mascot, Champ's stocks low-cost safety products, but also offers resources to educate families on safety for children of all ages.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, “unintentional injuries are the leading cause of death for children ages 1-14,” and “nearly 4.5 million children nationwide are injured in their homes every year,” as noted on the hospital's Safe Children Program Web page.

Cleaning products, found in nearly every room of the home, are one of the most tangible childhood dangers. Detergent pods were added to the list of concerns after a one-year-old Florida boy died shortly after ingesting the contents of a packet.

Experts warn families to keep any potentially toxic items away from younger children.

“Get the products out of reach of your child, if possible, but always keep the cabinets locked, so that it's hard for a child to access them,” Haverstick said.

Despite the increased concern, Haverstick credits Proctor & Gamble, maker of Tide Pods, for making positive changes to protect children.  The company has recently changed its bulk packaging from a clear, candy jar-like container to an opaque design with a more secure lid.  Safety alerts have also been posted on retail store shelves next to the product to warn of potential risks.

In addition to the Child Safety Program and Champ's Corner Store, Tennessee Poison Center is also located on the Vanderbilt University Medical Center campus. Trained professionals man the emergency help line 24-hours a day to offer advice and treatment information. TPC can be reached at 1-800-222-1222.

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