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Thousands Of Kids Sickened By Laundry Pods That Are Hard To Resist


Detergent pods are dangerous for young children. That's the message out today from a group of poison experts. For the first time, the researchers documented the hazards posed by these increasingly popular products.

NPR's Rob Stein has the details.

ROB STEIN, BYLINE: Detergent pods first came on the market a couple of years ago. They're those colorful squishy capsules designed to be a lot easier to use in washing machines, but Marcel Casavant of the Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio says they also contain chemicals that can be toxic.

MARCEL CASAVANT: They're very dangerous. It seems like these are probably very good at attacking stains in the laundry, but unfortunately they're also pretty effective at attacking children.

STEIN: Casavant and his colleagues had been hearing about kids getting sick from eating the pods, but had no idea how often that sort of thing was happening so the researchers combed through a national poisoning databank. In this week's issue of the journal Pediatrics, they're reporting what they found - more than 17,000 kids age 6 or younger were exposed to the chemicals in the pods in 2012 and 2013.

CASAVANT: That's about one every hour. It was a rather astonishing number.

STEIN: Most of the kids were only 1 or 2 years old. Sometimes they just got some detergent on their skin, but in many cases it was worse.

CASAVANT: Most of the exposures were children putting the product in their mouth, eating it, swallowing it, chewing on it, that sort of thing.

STEIN: Most of the kids ended up fine. Either nothing happened at all or they had relatively mild reactions like vomiting, nausea or irritated eye, but more than 750 kids ended up in the hospital. Some had serious breathing problems. Twelve had seizures. Two dozen ended up in comas and at least two died.

CASAVANT: Actually, this is a pretty big problem. The convenience of these products hardly seems to be part of worth all of the risk that they cause to children.

STEIN: Casavant and his colleagues think the companies that make the pods should change how they're designed so they don't look so appealing to kids and put them in childproof packaging.

CASAVANT: Part of the problem is that these products look so pretty. We call them pretty poisons and children are attracted to them. If manufacturers can make them look and feel less like toys or candies or playthings, there's a chance that it will take longer for a child to be drawn to the product.

STEIN: The companies that make the pods say they've already made some changes aimed at making them safer, but Brian Sansoni of the American Cleaning Institute, the industry's trade group, says the most important thing is for parents to be careful.

BRIAN SANSONI: You need to keep it up and away from children - out of sight, out of reach. That's the most important factor here. No matter what type of product it is, what color a product is, these products are not meant to be accessed by children.

STEIN: But Sansoni says the companies are working on some new industry standards aimed at making detergent pods even less dangerous for young children.

Rob Stein, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Rob Stein is a correspondent and senior editor on NPR's science desk.
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