When Laundry Detergent Looks Like Candy, Tragedy Can Result

Seven-month-old Michael Williams was living in a Kissimmee shelter for battered women when his mother left a laundry detergent pod on top of a load of laundry on a bed while Michael slept. When she returned to her room after stepping out of the room to speak to a staff member for a moment, she saw that Michael had the pod in his mouth. The mother called 911 and Michael was rushed to the hospital, but he died shortly thereafter.

Convenience – but at what price?

Laundry detergent pods only became available on the American market in 2012, and they rapidly became popular. Michael’s death was the first reported fatality caused by the pods, but Florida authorities reported that there have already been over 300 exposures to the product in Florida alone. Many exposures were described as a child tasting or licking the product, which does not normally cause a life-threatening reaction, but officials estimate that hundreds of children have ended up in intensive care or on ventilators nationwide.

A toxic product in a small, attractive package

The problem is with the laundry pods is twofold, according to the National Capitol Poison Center. One is that the detergent is much more concentrated than traditional liquids or powders. Many parents do not think of detergent as a major danger to children compared to other household products, because children who have tasted laundry detergent tend to spit it out.

The second problem is that the pods are packaged in a way that is very attractive to children. They are often brightly colored, and a young child could easily think that it is a piece of candy. When a child puts it into their mouth, the coating quickly dissolves, as it is designed to do in the washing machine. The contents inside the coating are under some pressure, so the detergent squirts into the child’s mouth, and the fast-acting poison causes the victim’s blood oxygen levels to plummet, causing them to become lethargic – which then further disrupts their efforts to breathe.

Should parents buy laundry detergent pods?

Some experts urge parents of children under the age of five to consider not buying the pods because they are simply too dangerous to have in the house. But no matter what form of laundry detergent you buy, all household cleaners should be kept in a locked cabinet out of the child’s reach, and parents must remember that a child can be seriously injured as a result of a momentary lapse. At least one manufacturer has changed to opaque packaging and has added a double lock to discourage children from opening the package, but as of this writing there are no regulations designed to make the pods less attractive to children or harder to access.
If your child has become sickened by exposure to a detergent pod, we recommend that you consult your pediatrician, even if the child seems to be unharmed. Because this is a new product, there is no data on the long-term effects of this type of accident. You should also call a Florida attorney who is experienced in products liability cases. These pods may be convenient, but the way in which they are designed and packaged is an accident waiting to happen.