ORLANDO, Fla. — A 7-month-old boy died after eating a laundry detergent packet in Kissimmee last week — highlighting the dangers poison-control officials have been warning of for more than a year as the products have become wildly popular among consumers.
If confirmed, his could be the first reported death in the nation tied to the detergent packets, though so far this year alone, more than 5,000 children have been sickened by them, according to the American Association of Poison Control Centers.
Kissimmee authorities responded Friday afternoon to a battered-women’s shelter where the child’s mother reported she had placed detergent pods — handed out by the shelter — inside a laundry basket on the bed where her son was sleeping.
She stepped away, and when she returned, the boy had eaten one packet of the highly concentrated detergent and was starting on a second one, according to Stacie Miller, a Kissimmee police spokeswoman.
“I didn’t realize how potent those things are,” Miller said.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned in an October 2012 report that “children might be attracted to the pods because their colorful appearance and size are similar to candy.”
The soft, colorful and squishy exterior of the laundry packets could easily be mistaken by babies or toddlers who get their hands on them when their parents are doing laundry, officials said.
The Kissimmee infant, Michael Williams, was coughing when emergency responders arrived but was alert and breathing, according to a police incident report. Shelter staff had helped the distraught mother remove the empty All Mighty Pacspacket and clear phlegm from the infant’s mouth, according to the report.
The baby was transported to Osceola Regional Medical Center, where his condition worsened and he died.
The Florida Department of Children and Families confirmed Michael ingested the laundry packet but said it will take weeks before medical examiners can make an official ruling on the cause of death.
“The death of little Michael is a tragedy,” DCF spokeswoman Terri Durdaller wrote in an e-mail to The Orlando Sentinel. “It reminds all of us as parents the dangers of leaving household cleaning supplies around our little ones.”
According to Florida Department of Health data, 20 children in Florida die each year on average from accidental poisoning — but the types of poisoning are not specified.
According to AAPCC, 5,753 kids 5 and younger have been exposed to single-load laundry packets from Jan. 1 through July 31 of this year. That number is almost as high as the total for 2012 — which was 6,231.
The nonprofit organization tracks fatalities caused by poisoning but would not say Thursday whether it has documented any deaths related to detergent packets, spokeswoman Loreeta Canton said.
The CDC did not respond to requests for comment about whether it has documented any other deaths involving possible exposure to the product.
Tampa Poison Control Center nurse JoAnn Chambers-Emerson said the dangers of detergent packets first became apparent in Europe where the product was first sold. Normally, liquid or powder detergent causes mouth or throat irritation when ingested by children, she said.
But then the calls got more alarming.
“It was a big surprise because we thought we knew everything about laundry detergent and how it acts in the body,” she said. “The kids not only have vomiting, but it seems to be prolonged vomiting, coughing, difficulty breathing and drowsiness; so much so, that doctors were afraid children would aspirate into their lungs.”
The CDC started distinguishing pod vs. non-pod detergent poisoning in May 2012 to track the incidence of exposure because the products are so attractive to kids and provoke serious symptoms, she said.
The source of the toxicity is unknown, but researchers in the United Kingdom reported the chemical that causes the product to dissolve in water triggers swelling in the esophagus.
Chambers-Emerson, who staffs the Tampa call center several times a week, said detergent-packet calls are monitored closely and are one of the few cases in which nurses call back to check on the child.
She said most calls to poison control are easily handled at home, but when a child ingests a laundry packet, the symptoms are extreme and require a trip to the emergency room in most cases.
In July, Procter & Gamble — the makers of Tide pods — announced it was replacing its clear fishbowl-like packaging with an orange opaque container to discourage curious children, according to a company news release. It also has a double-latch lid that is child-resistant.
Keep kids safe
Most children who get into cleaning supplies are age 5 and younger. If you think a child has been exposed to a laundry-detergent packet, call your local poison center immediately at 1-800-222-1222.
-The American Academy of Pediatrics advises parents to keep detergent packets — and all cleaning supplies — locked up where young children can’t see or reach them.
-Do not let children handle the detergent packets. Adults should make sure their own hands are dry before handling them.
-Keep packets sealed in their original packaging. Never store them in food containers, cups or bottles.
-Lock away any product, including those in the garage and medicine cabinet, that is dangerous to young children.
-Even if a package seems childproof, it should be kept out of sight and reach.
Distributed by MCT Information Services