Dangers Lurking in the Laundry Room; Keeping Your Kids Safe

child health and safety, laundry detergent dangers
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As parents we know to keep cleaning chemicals out of reach of small children. We keep bathroom and kitchen cabinets locked and store items such as pesticides outdoors in the garage. But have you checked your laundry room lately? There are items there that could be of danger to your kids.

The American Cleaning Institute notes that one in ten Americans forgets to take an important safety step when doing laundry each week – close the detergent container after each use. Remember also to not store these products on the floor where small children and pets can reach them. And always keep cleaning products in their original containers to prevent confusion with another product.

A new product introduced to American consumers is intended to be a convenient alternative to bulky bottles and to prevent spills is the single-use miniature laundry detergent packet. Unfortunately, nearly 250 cases of children accidentally swallowing these have been reported to poison control centers this year. Children are confusing the tiny, brightly colored packets with candy.

"If you look at the Tide Pods, they're bright blue and bright red and they look very similar to some of the ribbon candy," said Julie Weber, director of the Missouri Poison Control Center in St. Louis.

Dr. Kurt Kleinschmidt, a Dallas toxicologist and professor at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, says, “We look at these pods as being clearly more dangerous than the standard detergent." Symptoms from ingesting the packets are more severe than typical detergent poisoning and include nausea and breathing problems. Dr. Michael Buehler of the Carolinas Poison Center note that this is because the packets carry a full cup’s worth of detergent in “bite-size” form.

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Laundry detergent makers are taking steps to educate consumers about correct storage and use of these products to prevent such risks.

Other potential risky laundry room products are the fragranced detergents and dryer sheets. An analysis found that more than 25 volatile organic compounds, including seven hazardous air pollutants come from washer and dryer vents during the laundry cycle. Two of these, acetaldehyde and benzene, are classified by the Environmental Protection Agency as carcinogens.

Anne Steinemann of the University of Washington who helped conduct the study notes that “this is an interesting source of pollution because emissions from dryer vents are essentially unregulated and unmonitored.” Manufacturers are not required to disclose the ingredients used in fragrances, or in laundry products. “These products can affect not only personal health, but also public and environmental health. The chemicals can go into the air, down the drain and into water bodies,” Steinemann concludes.

Steinemann recommends using laundry products without any fragrance or scent.

Additional ACI laundry tips and resources are available at www.cleaninginstitute.org. Under the “Clean Living” tab, click on “Laundry.” You can also visit ACI’s Poison Prevention information page at http://www.cleaninginstitute.org/prevent_poisoning/

Sources Include:

  • American Cleaning Institute® (ACI – www.cleaninginstitute.org)
  • Selling Detergents One Load at a Time. Chemical & Engineering News, a weekly newsmagazine of the American Chemical Society
  • Anne C. Steinemann, Lisa G. Gallagher, Amy L. Davis and Ian C. MacGregor. Chemical emissions from residential dryer vents during use of fragranced laundry products. Air Quality, Atmosphere, and Health. Online First™, 19 August 2011

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