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dangers of laundry detergent packets
The Effects of Safety Interventions on Exposure to Laundry Detergent Packets Among Children
July 25, 2019
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A recent study published in Pediatrics found that numbers of ingestion of laundry detergent packets and serious medical outcomes as a result of exposures to laundry detergent packets among children under age 6 increased steadily until 2015 and then modestly declined. This decline is likely, in part, as a result of safety standards and interventions on reducing laundry packet exposures (which primarily targeted children less than 6 years of age). 

Timeline of Interventions

In 2013, following the death of an infant exposed to laundry detergent packets, manufacturers started changing the packaging, labels and latches to laundry detergent packets in an effort to reduce unsafe exposure. In 2015, a voluntary safety standard (F3159-15) was published by ASTM, which included guidance for various aspects of laundry detergent packets, including packaging, warning labeling, addition of a bitter agent to packet film, and a minimum standard for packet burst strength. Other notable milestones included the introduction of child resistant lids on tubs in 2017, as well as safety campaigns about the dangers of laundry detergent packets.

What They Found

For this study, data from the National Poison Data System (which includes data from calls from regional poison control centers in the US) was analyzed to measure the change in laundry packet exposures among children <6 years old from 2012-2017, during which the ASTM F3159-15 voluntary safety standard was put into place. Frequency and rates of exposure among children <6 years of age (for which the interventions and standards were applied) were compared to children >6 years of age (who were utilized as a control group). Medical outcomes of exposure were categorized by severity.

In the study time frame, over 72,000 exposure calls were logged, ~92% of which involved children 6 years of age or younger:

  • Over 73% of exposures were via ingestion. In children >6 years of age, 32% of exposures were ocular in nature.
  • Most exposures resulted in "minor" or "no" effect (48% and 19% respectively).
  • ~6% of exposures resulted in serious medical outcomes.
  • Ocular exposures were more likely to result in a serious medical outcome.
  • Of the 8 deaths during the study period, two of them were in children aged 7 and below.

Trends

  • Exposures in children under 6 years old increased by 110% from 2012 to 2015, and then decreased by 18% from 2015-2017. In contrast, exposures in children 6 years of age and older continuously increased by 292% from 2012-2017.
  • Ingestions among children <6 years of age increased by 106% from 2012-2015 before decreasing by 29% from 2015-2017, and the ocular exposures increased steadily by 199%. Among children 6 or older, the annual number of ingestions steadily increased by 203%, and ocular exposures steadily increased by 307%.
  • The number of hospital admissions among children <6 years increased by 63% from 2012 to 2015 and decreased by 55% from 2015-2017, whereas among children age 6 or older, hospital admissions increased by 207% from 2012-2017. In both age groups, the percentage of children admitted to a health care facility decreased from 2012 to 2017.
  • Children under 6 years who had a serious medical outcome increased by 78% from 2012 to 2015, and decreased by 33% from 2015-2017. Children age 6 or older who experienced a serious medical outcome increased by 168% from 2012 to 2017. However, in both groups, the percentage of children who experienced a serious medical outcome decreased from 2012-2017.

Tips for Parents

While the declining numbers of ingestions and serious medical outcomes as a result of exposures to laundry detergent packets are somewhat encouraging, there is still a long way to go, as numbers are still high. It is still important for clinicians to continue to send the message to parents about the dangers of laundry detergent packets, including:

  • Keep detergent containers closed, sealed, and stored up high, out of sight and out of reach of children
  • Never allow a child to handle a single-load laundry packet
  • Do not handle the products with wet hands

For more information about laundry detergent packets, visit the American Association of Poison Control Center's website

The Poison Control Center at CHOP is staffed with pharmacists and nurses, 24/7 and free of charge, to help manage any potential poisoning from laundry detergent packets. Call 1-800-222-1222 or visit the center's website