Poison control calls ‘spike’ due to online laundry pod challenge

Laundry detergent makers introduced miniature packets in recent months such as this one photographed Thursday, May 24, 2012, in Houston. But doctors across the country say children are confusing the tiny, brightly colored packets with candy and swallowing them. Nearly 250 cases have been reported to poison control centers. (AP Photo/Pat Sullivan)

(CNN)– It used to be that washing your kid’s mouth out with soap was seen as a punishment. Now, authorities are trying to keep teens from doing just that.

Teens have been increasingly biting into laundry pods, with some posting the videos online as part of a “challenge,” according to a statement Tuesday by the American Association of Poison Control Centers. The results can be potentially harmful or even deadly.

In the first 15 days of the new year, poison control centers received 39 such calls — the same number they received in all of 2016, the association said.

In videos posted on YouTube and social media, people gag, cough and sometimes begin foaming at the mouth after biting into laundry pods.

Related: Teens consuming laundry detergent pods in viral ‘challenge’

“The ‘laundry packet challenge’ is neither funny nor without serious health implications,” Stephen Kaminski, the association’s CEO and executive director, said in a statement Tuesday. “We have seen a large spike in single-load laundry packet exposures among teenagers since these videos have been uploaded.”

Poison control centers have handled over 50,000 calls about laundry packets over the past five years, the vast majority being accidents involving kids younger than 5 years old. But 13- to 19-year-olds have been responsible for more than 130 intentional exposures since 2016, according to the association.

The laundry pods, which contain brightly colored detergent packaged in a clear film, dissolve easily in water. But they can also release their toxic ingredients when they come into contact with saliva or wet hands, according to the US Consumer Product Safety Commission.

“The liquid detergent in the pods is not the same as regular liquid detergent. It has a higher concentration of surfactants, chemicals that are responsible for stain removal,” Eric J. Moorhead, president and principal scientist of Good Chemistry LLC, previously told CNN.

In the past, children have been hospitalized with difficulty breathing, loss of consciousness and temporary vision loss due to chemical burns to the eye, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission. In 2015, laundry packets were the third most common cause of unintentional poisoning in children under 5, behind acetaminophen and blood pressure medication.

The ingredients in laundry pods might also cause seizures, fluid in the lungs, respiratory arrest, coma or death, according to the American Association of Poison Control Centers.

“The intentional misuse of these products poses a real threat to the health of individuals,” Kaminski said.

Tide warns consumers on packaging that the laundry pods can be harmful if put in the mouth or eyes.

In a statement from Tide’s parent company, Procter & Gamble, representative Petra Renck wrote, “Nothing is more important to us than the safety of people who use our products. We are deeply concerned about conversations related to intentional and improper use of liquid laundry pacs and have been working with leading social media networks to remove harmful content that is not consistent with their policies.”

The company has released its own messages on social media, saying that the pods should be used for doing laundry — and nothing else.

The laundry pods’ colorful design has come under some criticism for their gelatinous, dessert-like appearance.

“What they need to do now is first of all, take these things off the shelves, and … put them back in a way that does not look edible, appetizing, exciting or anything else,” branding expert Bruce Turkel, CEO of Turkel Brands, told CNN’s Richard Quest on Monday.

“You want to have a real challenge?” Turkel asked. “Get teenagers to do their own laundry.”

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