Laundry detergent packets are a growing threat to children

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They may be convenient for adults, but laundry detergent packets are still a growing threat to children.

Approximately 30 children each day are still being exposed to the potential dangers of the packets. This serious threat continues, despite warnings and packaging changes. Now, experts say more needs to be done.

Soon after being introduced in the U.S. market, thousands of serious incidents involving children and laundry detergent packets forced manufacturers to make changes. They replaced clear containers with opaque ones and made them harder for children to open.

But a new study shows that during 2013-14, more than 22,000 incidents occurred in children younger than 6 years old -- an increase of 17 percent.

"These children have come in, in a coma; they've stopped breathing," says Dr. Gary Smith with Nationwide Children's Hospital. "We've even had two deaths in the last two years due to exposure to laundry detergent packets."

Smith led the study, and looked at several types of detergents - both packets and traditional forms. When children bite down on packets, they burst, shooting a toxic mix into a child's throat. They were associated with more serious medical outcomes, more hospitalizations and more breathing failure than other types of detergents - as well as two child deaths.

"Those concentrated chemicals can cause serious burns; if it gets down in the lung it can cause severe damage," says Dr. Smith. "It also, when it's absorbed, can cause effects on the brain."

Experts say parents of young children should avoid using laundry detergent packets all together, but if they do use them, store them high, out of sight and out of reach in a locked cabinet.

"Some of the manufacturers have actually moved to make detergent containers less accessible to children," Smith said. "But what we found was, in fact, the number of exposures have continued to increase."
Experts say containers could be made more like medicine bottles, so they're more child resistant. Also, the packets could be individually wrapped to further protect children.

On average, a call to a Poison Control Center comes in about every 45 minutes due to children getting into laundry detergent packages - and a child a day is hospitalized because of it.