The Utah Poison Control Center has received 14 poisoning reports involving laundry detergent pods in the first three weeks of 2018. A trendy social media meme — dubbed “Tide Pod Challenge” — was directly related to some of these cases.
Unlike some viral challenges promoting a good cause, “Tide Pod Challenge” started out as something humorous, videos of people biting down on colorful laundry detergent pods.
But the harmful risk is no laughing matter.
“Vomiting, wheezing, gasping, breathing problems and feeling sleepy” are some of the common effects of detergent ingestion, said Sherrie Pace with the Utah Poison Control Center.
Data shows Utah poison control handled more than 200 cases involving laundry detergent exposure statewide in 2017, and a majority of them — 172 cases — happened among children under 6.
Liquid and dry detergent can cause mouth, skin or eye irritation, and serious injuries are not common.
However, “laundry detergent pods are different,” the National Capital Poison Center warned, as biting into one can cause serious injuries or even death.
These detergent pods generally consist of ethanol, hydrogen peroxide and long-chain polymers, the concentrated blend of which are great at cleaning but also capable of burning through the lining of the mouth and stomach, according to the Consumer Reports.
“Laundry packet ingestions or eye exposures remain a significant cause for concern and unintentional exposures are still fairly common,” Pace said in an email response.
But laundry detergent is not the only household product that could potentially lead to poisoning.
Dangerous poisons lurk in every corner of the house, from kitchen counters to laundry rooms. Utah poison control reported more than 4,000 poisoning cases involving household cleaning items in 2016, and most of them took place at home.
National Safety Council recommends scrutinizing all household products, including:
• Laundry packets
• Floor and furniture polish
• Drain and toilet cleaners
• Oven cleaners
• Glass, wood and metal cleaners
The misuse of painkillers or analgesics is another major cause of poisoning in Utah, as almost 5,700 such cases were reported to the control center.
Painkillers are the most common toxic substance across all age groups statewide, and also are the No. 1 poisoning source among people ages 6 to 59.
In 2016, Utah poison control reported more than 40,000 human toxic exposures. Among them, 30 people died.
The Utah Poison Control Center illustrates the common toxins for different age groups in a chart below. It shows the cosmetics or personal care and cleaning substances were common toxic substances for children under 6, while teens and adults were more likely to be exposed to analgesics.
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Data suggests a majority of poisoning victims did not expose themselves to toxins on purpose. Some 80 percent of exposures were unintentional, by taking the wrong dose or wrong medication, food poisoning or unintentional misuse.
However, there has been a drastic difference in the reason of poisoning among different age groups, as a column chart shows below. The chart shows children under 6 were most likely to stumble upon poison as they tend to orally explore their environment.
Teenagers, on the other hand, were more likely to purposely seek out the poisonous products. More than two-thirds of poisoning cases happened in the age group of 13-19 were intentional.
In the Tide Pod Challenge, teenagers dared each other to eat — or at least pretend to eat — laundry detergent packets and as a result, some posted videos of themselves deliberately biting into the colorful packets or cooking them in frying pans before chewing them up.
In Weber County, 12 in every 1,000 people are exposed to poison in 2016. A map below illustrates how many poisoning cases in each county involving toxic exposure in 2016. The map shows Salt Lake County had the highest number of toxic exposures, while Duchesne had the highest rate of poisoning cases per 1,000 people.
Weber County reported nearly 3,000 poisoning cases, accounting for 7 percent of the state’s overall cases.
Davis County reported more than 4,000 cases in 2016, accounting for more than 10 percent of the state’s overall cases.
If you or someone you know ingests laundry detergent or any potentially toxic substance, call the Utah Poison Control Center at 1-800-222-1222. The service is free and private.