Highly concentrated laundry detergent in brightly-colored, bite-sized packets are so tempting to toddlers that Illinois Senator Dick Durbin has proposed a new law to make them safer.
"We don’t want kids to be in danger. We want this product to be safe in every home. We’re going to take care of this through a packaging viewpoint," Durbin said.
Durbin’s newly-proposed law is called The Detergent Poisoning and Child Safety Act, or PACS, Act. It would direct the Consumer Product Safety Commission to expand existing rules that would require child resistant packaging for the candy-colored pods, just like medicine bottles and cleaning products. It would also change the design and color of the packets making them less attractive to kids, and address the composition of the packets to include clear warning labels spelling out the consequences of exposure.
"And maybe even some flavor on the outside of the packet that would be awful and that kids would spit out," Durbin added.
The convenient pods – which were introduced three years ago -- are squishy and candy colored. When toddlers put them in their mouths or bite them, they can swallow the toxic chemicals inside with potentially deadly results.
"They're so appealing. They're so attractive. Something about the look of them that makes kids want to eat them," said Dr. Kyran Quinlan, chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics Council on Injury.
Last year poison centers across the country received 11,713 calls involving kids exposed to the colorful packets. Nearly 900 more calls have come in so far this year.
"Some kids have had seizures as a result of this, lost consciousness as a result of this," Dr. Quinlan said. Other reactions include vomiting, choking, respiratory distress, even death.
In Florida, a 7-month-old boy died after taking a bite of a pod. Close calls have been reported across the country: another Florida toddler was airlifted to the hospital and put on a ventilator for a week after eating a colorful pod. There was a similar story for an 8-month-old baby in New York.
The American Cleaning Institute launched a safety campaign about the potential dangers but called the legislation unnecessary. The industry group told NBC 5 Investigates that manufacturers have made major changes to packaging, including adding warning labels and easy-to-understand safety icons.
"Manufacturers of liquid laundry detergent packets are very committed to reducing the number of accidents with these products involving children, which are used safely by millions of consumers," the ACI said in a statement. "These pre-measured products provide a convenient way for consumers to do laundry."
Durbin is calling on a major corporation to step up its efforts to protect kids.
"Seventy percent of the pods or packets are made by one company, Procter and Gamble. We’re appealing to them directly," Durbin said. "But I would think that the company, a good company like that, a big company like that, that appeals to families and says they really care about you would take an extra step. Put a package that’s a little tougher for kids to get into."
Procter & Gamble spokeswoman Tracey Long said the company has taken a number of steps "over the past several months" to make the product less appealing to young people, including making the packaging opaque to obscure the pods inside and adding a "triple-latch lid" to the container.
"Our packages also include prominent safety warnings on the label advising to keep out of reach of children," she said.
If passed, Durbin’s bill would go into effect in 18 months.