The number of older American children exposed to liquid laundry detergent packets has increased since the adoption of new product safety standards in 2015.
In a study featured in the journal Pediatrics, researchers at Nationwide Children's Hospital and the Central Ohio Poison Center examined reports of liquid laundry detergent exposure across the United States.
Results showed that the number of calls involving children younger than six years old decreased following the U.S. government's adoption of a product safety standard in 2015. However, the researchers detected an increase in reports for older children and adults.
Liquid Laundry Detergent Exposure
As many as 72,947 calls were made related to people exposed to liquid laundry detergent packets between January 2012 and December 2017, according to U.S. poison control centers. In 2017 alone, health agencies received an average of one call almost every 42 minutes.
Majority of the reports involved young children below the age of 6 (91.7 percent). These victims were exposed mostly to a single substance (97.5 percent) and the incident happened at home (98.5 percent). About 6.4 percent of people exposed to a single substance suffered serious medical conditions.
Throughout the study, there were eight cases of deaths as a result of laundry detergent ingestion, which the researchers considered as single-substance exposures.
Two of these incidents involved children as young as 7 to 16 months. The rest of the deaths involved adults as old as 43 years and beyond who have been diagnosed with a serious condition such as Alzheimer's disease, dementia, or other developmental disabilities.
Product Safety Standard For Liquid Laundry Detergent Packet Exposures
In 2015, the American Society for Testing and Materials released a Standard Safety Specification for Liquid Laundry Packets to help curb unintentional exposures to liquid laundry detergent packets. However, some product safety experts believe the regulation was not enough to address the issue.
One the leading manufacturer of laundry detergents in the U.S. started implementing some changes to its product and packaging to help reduce the exposure of children to the substance.
Several child safety groups, including the American Academy of Pediatrics and Prevent Child Injury, launched campaigns to raise the public's awareness on the dangers of child exposure to laundry detergent packets.
Meanwhile, the Nationwide Children's Hospital and Central Ohio Poison Center study looked at how these safety interventions affected children's exposure rates to the hazardous substance.
The researchers found that the number and rate children younger than 6 were exposed to laundry detergent packets declined by only 18 percent after the implementation of the new ASTM safety standard.
"The voluntary standard, public awareness campaigns, and product and packaging changes to-date are good first steps, but the numbers are still unacceptably high," said Gary Smith, director of the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children's Hospital and senior author of the study.
"We can do better."
A possible reason for the less-than-expected decline in exposures might be because the new safety guideline allows laundry detergent makers to meet the requirement for child-resistant containers in different ways instead of having them to conform to the Poison Prevention Packaging Act of 1970, which have been highly effective at preventing children's access to poisonous substances.
Liquid laundry detergent packets are considered to be more toxic compared to regular liquid and powder variants. It is not yet clear why these products have higher toxicity levels than others. Additional research will be needed to find out how manufacturers can make their laundry detergent packets less toxic to consumers.