Updated: Jan 9
Accidental ingestion of liquid laundry detergent capsules (laundry pods) leads to no clinical features roughly half the time, according to a review of evidence conducted by scientists in the UK. Furthermore, features are "minor" in 90% of cases in which they arise, the review concludes.
Laundry pods are single-load capsules that contain concentrated liquid detergent within a water-soluble membrane that dissolves when it comes in contact with water. They have become a popular alternative to conventional detergent because of ease of use and convenience. However, there are widespread concerns about their safety, particularly in relation to children, who may mistake them for sweets.
The current review was conducted by scientists at City Hospital, Birmingham, and Newcastle University. The scientists are, or have been, associated with the National Poisons Information Service (NPIS), according to a disclosure statement in the paper, which is published in Clinical Toxicology. The NPIS has received "unrestricted educational grants" from the UK Cleaning Products Industry Association (UKCPI) and P&G for studies on the toxicity of household products, the statement adds.
The scientists reviewed 122 publications on the subject and found that "very rarely" ingestion can lead to:
central nervous system depression;
esophageal or gastric injury;
Eye exposure often produces conjunctivitis, eye irritation, eye pain and, infrequently, corneal injury. Dermal contact is often "of no consequence", although skin burns can develop following prolonged contact. Ingestion of laundry pods has led to 17 deaths, the scientists found.
In the US, packaging changes have led to a fall in the number of exposures and the severity of those exposures. However, in Europe, the situation is more complex. The number of exposures has fallen in Italy following the packaging changes, but there was no evidence of a beneficial impact in the UK, where the market is more mature.
Companies introduced the pods to the UK and French consumer markets in 2001 and to markets in other European countries some time after 2008. The pods became widely available in the US in 2011, and have since become popular. UK sales have risen year-on-year, with companies currently selling 1.3 billion capsules a year.
However, in 2012 the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that children were mistaking laundry pods for sweets and eating them, leading to over 1,000 incidents in a two-month period. Children of five years old or younger accounted for 94% of the poisonings.
Article in Chemical Watch 3rd Oct 2019 - author Andrew Turley (Science Editor)