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Early this year, videos of teenagers intentionally ingesting laundry pods began to appear on social media and were quickly picked up and shared by news outlets across the country. The video clips, part of the “Tide Pod Challenge” and now banned from YouTube, reignited a national conversation around the dangers of laundry pods.
While the Tide Pod Challenge drew a great deal of attention to the dangers of intentional ingestion, the vast majority of safety incidents related to laundry pods come from accidental ingestion by toddlers or cognitively impaired individuals. With their colorful design and pleasant smell, it’s easy to see why young children often mistake laundry pods for toys or candy. And once you understand how quickly they dissolve, it’s not difficult to see how kids can rapidly find themselves in a very dangerous situation.
According to the American Association of Poison Control Centers (AAPCC), ingesting laundry pods, whether intentionally or accidentally, can lead to seizure, pulmonary edema, respiratory arrest, coma, and even death.
The AAPCC has been warning parents and caretakers of the dangers of laundry pods since 2012, and they recently issued an updated statement detailing the dangers of this common household product. While poison control received 86 calls in reference to intentional ingestion in the first three week of 2018, they’ve received more than 50,000 calls about accidental ingestion since laundry pods became available for sale—so the accidents are clearly outweighing the acts of peer pressure.
Legislators in New York, fed up with the seeming inaction of the industry, introduced a bill in early February designed to improve the safety of laundry pods. The bill, which was brought forward by state Sen. Brad Hoylman (D) and Assemblywoman Aravella Simotas, calls for laundry pod makers to redesign both their product and their packaging to reduce their visual and textile appeal by moving towards a less squishy, less colorful design. It also recommends requiring manufacturers to add more bittering agent to the laundry detergent within the pod, add stronger warning language to their packaging and improve the child-resistant elements of their package.
The bill in question would only impact laundry pods sold within New York, but legislators are hopeful that safety updates will be made across the board. In Canada, where more than 100 cases of laundry pod incidents were reported in pediatric emergency rooms between 2012 and 2015, and most of those were kids ages two to four, legislative changes could also make a huge impact.
In 2015, manufactures of laundry pods adopted voluntary safety standards as recommended by the US Consumer Product Safety Commission, calling for clearer warnings and more child-resistant packaging, among other things. Manufacturers also recommend parents store the pods in a sealed container out of their child’s reach and talk to their children about the dangers of ingesting laundry detergent.
But even the most cautious parents can make mistakes, and some situations are outside a parent’s control. Perhaps a laundry pod falls from the container and under a cabinet without a parent noticing, or a child playing at a relative’s house stumbles upon an unlocked cabinet.
Creating products that plan for accidental misuse is common in other industries. We have childproof medicine bottles even though we tell parents to keep medication out of the reach of kids and rumble strips on the road even though drivers should be watching where they go. Now, even though we tell parents to keep laundry pods out of the reach of their kids, NY legislators are fighting to make them less dangerous when they land there anyway.