A new study says laundry pods — those colourful, convenient single-use packages of detergent — pose a serious poisoning risk to young children.  

The risk is so serious that the study's authors recommend that families with children under the age of four avoid buying laundry pods altogether and stick with the old-fashioned liquid or powder.

The study, published in the journal Pediatrics, looked at data from the National Poison Data System in the U.S.

It found 17,230 children under the age of six had some kind of unhealthy exposure to laundry detergent pods in 2012-2013.

'These have bright colours, they have pretty patterns.  When you feel them, they're soft and squishy.  If I were a child, it would look like the perfect item to put into my mouth' - Dr. Marcel Casavant, study author

"That's about one an hour," says Dr. Marcel Casavant, one of the study's authors, who says about half of those children got sick.  

"Many with vomiting, a number with trouble breathing, a number with trouble staying awake. We found some skin injuries, some eye injuries, some burns to these children," says Casavant.

"A number of these children were having so much trouble breathing, they had to have a tube put into their windpipe and then be connected to a ventilator."

There were two deaths.

Kids think they're candy

Two-thirds of those exposed were one- and two-year-olds.  Most exposure involved ingestion, which accounted for 79.7 per cent of the cases.

"These have bright colours, they have pretty patterns.  When you feel them, they're soft and squishy.  If I were a child, it would look like the perfect item to put into my mouth," says Casavant. 

Dr. Marcel Casavant

Dr. Marcel Casavant, co-author of the study, said a change in packaging by one company led to a 25 per cent drop in incidents of exposure. (Nationwide Children's Hospital)

But they aren't just putting the pods in their mouths. They're getting the detergent in their eyes.

The study cited Canadian reports that described corneal abrasions and burns when ocular exposure occurs.

From March 2012 to April 2013, the monthly number of exposures increased by 645.3 per cent.  

Casavant says the beginning of that period roughly coincides with when laundry pods were first introduced in the U.S.

Stored within reach

Another reason for the high number of exposures, the study found, relates to the incorrect storage of the pods.  

They're often kept in a low, unlocked kitchen or bathroom cabinet.  A caregiver also may have left the open pod container within reach of a child while momentarily distracted.  

Packaging is a major concern of the study authors.

"A number of these [pods] are sold in packages that are see-through, so a child can see how pretty the product is inside," says Casavant.  

"Some were sold in clear plastic baggies, some were sold in clear plastic tubs or bins, and many of these did not have child-resistant closures."

One company makes changes

Further proof of the power of packaging, the study found, came in the spring of 2013.

Proctor & Gamble, whose Tide Pods have helped the company garner the largest market share, responded to reports of child injuries by introducing opaque packaging.  P&G also added a warning label and latches to its laundry pod container.

The timing of those changes roughly correspond with a 25 per cent drop in child exposures. 

Increased public awareness and media coverage following the August 2013 death of a toddler may have also contributed to the decline in exposures, the study notes. 

Got a consumer issue? Contact Aaron Saltzman.