Laundry detergent packets are more dangerous to children than other types and forms of detergent, according to a new study.
In addition, exposures to the brightly colored packets jumped 17% from 2013 to 2014.
“Health care providers should counsel parents and caregivers about the dangers associated with detergent exposure and recommend safe storage and use of these products,” authors said in the study “Pediatric Exposures to Laundry and Dishwasher Detergents in the United States: 2013-2014” (Davis MG, et al. Pediatrics. April 25, 2016, http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/early/2016/04/21/peds.2015-4529).
Researchers analyzed 2013 and 2014 data from the National Poison Data System for children under age 6 and broke products into four categories — laundry detergent packet, laundry detergent non-packet, dishwasher detergent packet and dishwasher detergent non-packet.
They found 62,254 reported pediatric exposures to dishwasher or laundry detergents that met their study criteria, of which 35.4% were laundry detergent packets and 24.2% were dishwasher detergent packets.
Roughly 43.5% of all exposures had at least one clinical effect, most commonly vomiting. Children exposed to laundry detergent packets were 3.9 to 8.2 times more likely to experience these effects than those exposed to any other detergent type or form. In addition, two children died, and both deaths were associated with laundry detergent packets. The laundry packets also were the only product tied to coma, respiratory arrest and pulmonary edema.
“Differences in chemical composition and concentration between laundry detergent packets and other types of detergents may account for the higher toxicity observed for laundry detergent packets,” the authors said.
Most exposures occurred through ingestion. The mean age of children exposed to detergent was 1.7 years, and the majority were younger than 3.
“The high proportion of exposures among this age group is most likely due to the large amount of time they spend in the home, their newfound mobility, and their curiosity leading to exploratory and mouthing behavior,” according to the study.
The total exposures to any detergent increased 14.3% from 2013 to 2014 with the biggest jump seen in laundry detergent packets.
Last year, ASTM International, a voluntary standards development organization, adopted new safety standards for laundry detergent packets. However, authors of the study said the standards don’t mandate individually wrapped packets and don’t address the attractive design or the chemical composition of the packets."This voluntary standard is a good first step, but it needs to be strengthened," Gary Smith, M.D., Dr.P.H. FAAP, the senior author of the study and director of the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children's Hospital said in a news release. "Unless this unacceptably high number of exposures declines dramatically, manufacturers need to continue to find ways to make this product and its packaging safer for children."
The Academy has pushed for legislation that would allow federal authorities to set regulations on the packets if the voluntary standards do not protect children adequately.
In the meantime, the study’s authors called for increasing education for parents and other caregivers.
“Detergents should be stored up and out of sight of children and in a locked cabinet to help prevent exposures,” they said.
To report an exposure to a poison center, call 1-800-222-1222.