For the rest of her life, 21-month-old Zoey Mishler will be monitored for scar tissue on her vocal cords and in her throat that could result from sinking her baby teeth into a laundry detergent packet last summer.
The energetic toddler ended up in the hospital with swollen vocal cords, burns to her throat, a fever and blue chemical bubbles coming out of her nose after biting into the colorful packet in a communal laundry room on July 30.
“We are going to do our best to see that this laundry pod can be just made a little bit safer, a little bit harder to get into for kids everywhere,” said Zoey’s grandmother, Shelly Olson.
Olson and others spoke at a news conference Friday that presented new legislation to set safety standards for liquid detergent packets — commonly referred to as “pods”— that have been linked to a surge of child poisonings — and at least one death.
“To a little kid, they literally look like candy,” said Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., who is co-sponsoring the Detergent Poisoning and Child Safety Act with Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill.
Speaking at the Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis, Klobuchar said the bill would authorize the Consumer Product Safety Commission to develop rules requiring childproof packaging, warning labels, and changes to packet designs and colors to make them less appealing to kids, and adjustments to their composition that would make the consequences of exposure less severe.
Manufacturers — many of whom say they’re already working to implement safeguards on their own — would have 18 months to comply with the new regulations.
Nationwide, more than 17,000 children under age 6 were exposed to the contents of laundry detergent pods between March 2012 and April 2013, according to a report from the American Academy of Pediatrics, which found that the products pose a serious and potentially life-threatening poisoning risk to young children. The death of a 7-month-old Florida boy was linked to the pods.
The Minnesota Poison Control System reported 49 detergent-packet-related cases in 2012 — when the products began gaining popularity — compared with 352 in 2014.
Dr. Jon Cole, medical director of the Poison Control System, said Friday that the packets are one of three major emerging poisoning trends in the state, the other two being e-cigarette juice and synthetic drugs.
“The change in the numbers is similar for all three,” he said. “A low-level problem that we didn’t see very often ... becomes part of our everyday practice.”
In fact, the first call of the day to the state’s poison control emergency number Friday involved a child biting into a detergent pod, said Klobuchar, who before the news conference stopped by the room where the calls are taken.
Though detergents generally are not particularly toxic, Cole said, the pods can cause severe injuries, such as burns inside the mouth and airway and to the skin.
“Compared to usual exposures for children of similar age and similar products, these laundry pods are far more likely to land children in the hospital,” he said.
In a February news release, the American Cleaning Institute called legislative proposals for addressing the safety of liquid detergent packets unnecessary.
The institute, which represents the U.S. cleaning-products industry, wrote that manufacturers of the packets are already committed to reducing the number of accidents involving children that are attributed to the products.
Manufacturers have added safety icons and improved warning labels, along with changing to opaque packaging to make the laundry packets not visible from the outside, according to the news release.
“ACI will continue working to reach as many parents and caregivers as possible, reminding them of the importance to keep laundry packets away from children,” the institute wrote.
On Friday, Klobuchar said that she does not see the bill as heavy-handed and that she thinks companies already know they need to upgrade their products to make them safer.
“If the industry starts pursuing their own safety measures, that’s a good thing,” she said, adding that government agencies sometimes adopt industry standards when writing regulations.
“We all know these detergent packets … are a big convenience — I use them. They are a time saver,” she said. “The question is: How do we make them less accessible to kids and make our kids less at risk of poisoning?”
As Zoey scampered about the conference room with her toy dog, her grandmother, Olson, said she feels generally lucky about how her granddaughter’s case turned out.
“We are still very worried about possible scarring tissue that may come on later in life, that may infect her airways, but you know, we’re going to count our blessings,” she said.
Parker Lemke is a University of Minnesota student on assignment for the Star Tribune.