Detergent Pod Poisonings Increase, Even After Changes To Packaging

In spite of efforts by manufacturers to make their laundry detergent pods look less like candy in a jar, the number of poisoning incidents related to these products continues to grow.

This according to a Wall Street Journal analysis of data from the American Association of Poison Control Centers. Between 2012 and 2014, the number of reported poisonings jumped from 6,343 to 11,714.

In 2012, Tide’s corporate overlords at Procter & Gamble responded to concerns about the safety of the pod packaging by switching to a double-latch lid intended to make it more difficult for a very young child to open.

Safety advocates urged P&G and others to go further and put the pods in opaque packaging. Some pods, like Costco’s store-brand detergent — were being sold in the same sorts of bins the company sells bulk candy, cookies, and nuts in, but with a simple peel-back lid instead of a screw-top. Costco eventually began wrapping its pod jars in opaque plastic.

It was revealed in 2013 that P&G had originally tested opaque packaging for the pods but opted against it because the clear jars show off the brightly colored packets. Tide has since switched to opaque packaging, but some brands continue to sell detergent packets in clear jars and resealable plastic bags.

In terms of educating the public, both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission spoke out publicly about the risk of having pods within reach of young children who haven’t learned to differentiate between what should and shouldn’t go in their mouths.

According to the Journal, at least seven people have died after biting into single-dose laundry packets. Four of those deaths occurred in 2014 and one already this year. Two of the seven deaths have involved adults with dementia, so this isn’t always just a matter of putting the pods on a higher shelf in the laundry room.

It’s likely no coincidence that the increase in poisoning incidents is occurring at the same time as sales of detergent packets increase. During a period in which poisoning reports increased 20%, sales of pods were up 30%. However, they still only make up around 12% of the detergent market.

From their colorful exterior, to their packaging, to the fact that the detergent gel can shoot out when punctured or bitten into, these pods are a safety advocate’s nightmare.

“There is something inherent about these products that makes them unsafe,” Richard Geller, medical director of the California Poison Control System, tells the Journal.

Earlier this year, Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois and Rep. Jackie Speier of California introduced legislation, the Detergent Poisoning and Child Safety Act, in both the Senate and House that would require the CPSC to issue safety standards to protect children under five years of age from the risks of injury or illness caused by exposure to liquid detergent packets. The odds of that legislation even making it out of committee are currently quite slim.