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Detergent packets
Detergent packets

Detergent poses risk to children

More than 17,000 children under age 6 have eaten or inhaled the contents or squirted concentrated liquid from a packet into their eyes

Since the introduction of colourful, single-load packets of laundry detergent in 2012 through the end of 2013, more than 17,000 children under age 6 have eaten or inhaled the contents or squirted concentrated liquid from a packet into their eyes, researchers reported Monday.

Their study is the first to compile all cases reported to the National Poison Data System. Reporting to the database is voluntary, so the figure is likely an underestimation, several experts say. The study was published in the journal Pediatrics.

Critics contend that some brightly coloured packets too closely resemble candy or a teething toy. Two years ago, the US’ Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggested the packets “might represent an emerging public health concern".

“These 17,000 children, we found, amounts to one child every hour being exposed to one of these laundry pod products," says Marcel J. Casavant, a study author and medical director of the poison centre at the Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio. Most of the children were aged 1 or 2, and nearly 80% of the cases involved ingestion of a packet’s contents. Two deaths have been confirmed.

Most commonly, children vomited, became lethargic, suffered eye irritation, coughed or choked, the researchers found. About 6,000 were seen in emergency rooms. About 750 were hospitalized, and half required intensive care.The laundry packets tend to burst in a child’s mouth, and the concentrated contents can be swallowed all at once.

“They are made with almost like a very thin Saran wrap that dissolves when wet," says Cynthia Aaron, the medical director of the Regional Poison Control Center at the Children’s Hospital of Michigan, which contributes to the national database. “They bite on it, and the contents go to the back of their throat."

Angela Farrell, a 24-year-old mother in Levittown, Pennsylvania, kept detergent packets on a high shelf, but one day in March, a packet fell, and her 18-month-old son put it in his mouth. She says, “By the time I had pulled it out, he had swallowed its contents." He was lethargic, struggling to breathe and vomiting copiously; he needed a breathing tube. After three days in intensive care at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, he recovered.

“The most important factor in decreasing bad outcomes for kids is to decrease the toxicity of the product itself, or decrease the ability for it to get into the hands or mouths of young children," says Fred M. Henretig, an emergency medicine doctor and senior toxicologist at the same hospital. “It’s not about bad parenting."

Dr Casavant and his colleagues are calling for better product packaging and labelling, public education, and an industrywide product safety standard.

©2014/The New York Times

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