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Health News Florida

Bill: Tone Down Colorful Detergent Pods

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Credit Daylina Miller/WUSF News

A year ago, poison control centers were flooded with calls about children eating detergent pods, colorful, sweet-smelling packets used for laundry and dishes that were being mistaken for candy.

Now U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Florida, is filing a bill that could reduce the toxicity of the pods and hide the bright blue, green and orange colors of the detergent.

"Why does it have to be so colorful? That kind of color attracts a child and then when the child feels it...oh...it's nice and soft and its cool,” Nelson said Friday in his Tampa Senate office. “And of course, when babies get something in their hands, where does it end up? It ends up in their mouth."

Nelson and Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, are filing the legislation, which, if passed, will require the Consumer Safety Product Commission to establish a safety standard that companies making the pods must follow. The bill recommends warning labels, a change in the detergent's formula to make it less toxic, and opaque packaging to hide the detergent colors.

Nelson's concerns stem in part from the 2013 death of a a 7-month-old infant in Kissimmee, who died after ingesting a laundry detergent pod.

And in 2014, nearly 12,000 calls were made to poison-control centers after children touched, inhaled, bit into or ate the pods.

The growing popularity of the convenient cleaner means children have more chances to get their hands on the detergent, said Alfred Aleguas, managing director of the Florida Poison Information Center's Tampa branch.

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Credit Credit Daylina Miller/WUSF News
Florida U.S. Democratic Senator Bill Nelson, left, announced Friday, Feb. 13 that he is co-sponsoring a bill to force the Consumer Safety Product Commission to regulate packaging on detergent pods. Doctor Alfred Aleguas, right, said the bright colors and sweet smells attract children too easily.

"So the issue is these particular single use packages are very attractive to children and they smell good,” Aleguas said. “They're very convenient so there has been a sharp increase in their use, so of course, there's been an increase in the number of pediatric exposures."

Aleguas said few household products are as concerning as these detergent pods, since the cleaner inside is so highly concentrated and can cause respiratory problems.

While poison control centers often receive calls from concerned parents about regular liquid or powdered laundry detergent, which can cause a mild upset stomach, the American Association of Poison Control Centers reports the pods are different.

“Some children who have gotten the product in their mouths have had excessive vomiting, wheezing and gasping. Some get very sleepy. Some have had breathing problems serious enough to need a ventilator to help them breathe.  There have also been reports of corneal abrasions (scratches to the eyes) when the detergent gets into a child’s eyes,” according to the AAPCC website.

The Consumer Product and Safety Commission first warned about the potential dangers of detergent pods in March 2013 and asked manufacturers to create packaging that was less appealing to children. Nelson’s bill would require pod makers to do so.  

If you think a child has come into contact with a detergent pod or any toxic substance, call the Poison Control 24-hour hotline at (800) 222-1222.

Daylina Miller is a reporter with WUSF in Tampa. WUSF is a partner with Health News Florida, which receives support from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.