New safety standard in works to prevent child poisoning from liquid laundry packets like Tide Pods

Poison centers took 10,356 laundry calls in 2013

CINCINNATI - An industry group to which Procter & Gamble Co. belongs has introduced a new set of voluntary guidelines to prevent poisoning from liquid laundry packets like Tide Pods.

But the guidelines may not go far enough to satisfy the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

The American Cleaning Institute said the guidelines are intended as “best practices” for household laundry producers to follow in labeling, packaging and designing laundry packets. The guidelines call for opaque or obscure packaging that keep kids from seeing the colorful packets and warning labels that advise storing packets out of the reach of children. The labels also urge users to keep the concentrated laundry chemicals out of the mouth and eyes.

P&G spokesman Paul Fox said the company supports the new guidelines and is in full compliance with them.

“We continue to believe that the development and approval of a performance standard is needed to enhance the safety of liquid laundry packets,” said CPSC spokesman Scott Wolfson. “Right now, there is no standard for single-dose liquid laundry packets.”

Wolfson said the American Society for Testing and Materials has been working on “a consensus safety standard” for months in a process that includes input from manufacturers, consumer advocates, scientists and technical advisors. The American Cleaning Institute is participating in that process, but the voluntary guidelines it released earlier this month were outside the ASTM process.

“Many of the companies have moved in a positive direction,” Wolfson said. “They’ve moved to opaque packaging. There is more consistency in warning labels. There are companies working to be more innovative in coming up with enclosures that are more difficult for children to get into, whether it be a tub or a bag. We want to see it more difficult for children to get into these packages.”

The American Association of Poison Control Centers said 10,356 children under five were exposed to single-load laundry packets in 2013. There were 1,849 additional incidents in the first two months of this year.

“Some children who have gotten the product in their mouths have had excessive vomiting, wheezing and gasping,” said AAPCC’s web site. “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.”

P&G has made its packaging more opaque in response to criticism that the colorful pod in clear plastic jars looked too much like candy. It also launched a “Safe Home” educational campaign to teach consumers about the proper storage of household products.

But those measures – and the new ACI guideline – fall short of the changes requested by consumer advocates to date.

Last March, the Consumers Union, publisher of Consumer Reports magazine, called on all manufacturers of liquid laundry packets to “develop adequate child-safe packaging and prominent warning labels.” It said companies “should explore other safety measures, including changing the color of the pods to make them less appealing or coating them with a foul-tasting material.”

A spokesman for Washington, D.C. –based public policy and advocacy group said in an email it was encouraged by the voluntary guidelines but it still wants to see more movement.

"Clearly, this problem is fast-growing, and immediate action is necessary to prevent the horrible injuries children can suffer from ingestion of these colorful packets of concentrated detergent,'' wrote Ami Gadhia, of the Consumers Union, in the email. "That is why we are continuing to urge the CPSC to mandate new rules to eliminate the hazards currently posed by these pods."

Further, Gadhia said the group urges "retailers to improve in-store signage to better alert parents and caregivers to the dangers of laundry pods."

A Chicago grandmother has called on Procter & Gamble to provide individual wrapping for Tide Pods.

Erica Johnson’s petition campaign on Change.org collected more than 36,000 supporters.

ACI won’t say whether color changes and individual wrappers were discussed by the trade group when it developed the new voluntary guidelines for the cleaning products industry.

“The voluntary guidance document was targeted at measures likely to be the most effective for reducing children’s exposure to liquid laundry packets,” said ACI spokesman Brian Sansoni. “The document is not intended to preclude companies from adopting additional safety measures, should they wish to do so.”

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