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Liquid Laundry Detergent Pods Pose Lethal Risk for Adults With Dementia

detergent-filled packets
Detergent-filled packets

Consumer Reports recommends keeping the potent detergent-filled packets out of households with cognitively impaired adults...

June 17, 2017

Yonkers, NY - by Kimberly Janeway, CR - One day last May, an 87-year-old woman named Edith was rushed to the hospital in a small Texas town after she was found slumped over and unresponsive at the home where she lived with her son and daughter-in-law. The woman, who suffered from dementia, had eaten two liquid laundry detergent packets. She died two days later.

Edith’s is one of eight deaths related to ingesting liquid laundry packets in the U.S. between 2012 and early 2017 that have been reported to the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Two of the cases were young children and six were adults with dementia.

“Caregivers and children of seniors should be aware that ingestion of the contents of certain liquid laundry packets has led to serious and even tragic incidents,” says Patty Davis, press secretary for the CPSC. “Water, wet hands, and even saliva can dissolve the packets and release the highly concentrated liquid.”

Liquid laundry detergent packets are squishy like playthings and colorful like candy, which helps explain why children can be drawn to them. Not long after Tide Pods debuted in a television commercial during the Academy Awards in 2012, promoting a new product category, Consumer Reports began calling on manufacturers to make liquid packets safer. CR’s advice to consumers has been to keep laundry packets out of households where children under 6 years old may be present. And although some manufacturers have made some changes to the packaging and the product itself, pods continue to pose serious health risks. Now it’s clear that kids aren’t the only vulnerable population.

Consumer Reports learned about the pod-related deaths through a Freedom of Information Act request that we filed earlier this year with the CPSC. (CR discovered Edith's name through further reporting but chose to withhold her last name in the interest of her family’s privacy.)

According to the information we received from the CPSC, Edith had seemed fine during lunch, just a few hours before she was found. The first clues as to what happened came when her daughter-in-law returned home from the hospital to collect a few things. She found that the pungent smell of laundry detergent filled Edith’s bedroom, and a new container of liquid laundry detergent packets had been opened. Several of the pink pods were missing. Edith, who had been known to mistake objects for candy, had eaten them. The medical examiner ruled her death an accident; ingestion of laundry detergent was listed as the cause.

Six of the eight deaths, including Edith's, involved pods manufactured by Procter & Gamble, according to the CPSC reports. P&G’s laundry packets are the industry's biggest sellers, with its Tide Pods and sibling brands representing 79 percent of the market, according to IRI, a Chicago-based market research firm. “We are aware of accidental ingestions related to our liquid laundry pacs among adults with previously diagnosed dementia,” Elizabeth Kinney, P&G’s senior communications manager for North America fabric care, told CR. “We are deeply saddened by this and have taken action to understand and help prevent these types of incidents.”

Sales of laundry pods totaled $1.2 billion over a recent 12-month period, according to IRI, and accounted for 17 percent of all laundry detergent sales.

Reported Cases

The details CR received from the CPSC provide a grim glimpse into preventable tragedies:

  • A 15-month-old boy visiting his grandmother in New Jersey managed to reach a container of laundry packets on top of the washer and ate one. He died of poisoning three days later.
  • In Ohio, a new pouch of laundry pods was left on a kitchen counter, where a 67-year-old man with dementia discovered it. He opened the ziplock-style package, chewed on five pods, and died the same day.
  • A 78-year-old woman with advanced Alzheimer’s living with her son in Tennessee ate laundry packets one day in 2012. She died several weeks later of respiratory failure and chemical pneumonia, among other medical conditions.

In all six of the adult deaths, the victims suffered from dementia.

 

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