Congresswoman Jackie Speier Introduces Bill to Protect Children from Detergent Packet Poisoning

February 26, 2015

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Congresswoman Jackie Speier (D-San Francisco/San Mateo Counties) introduced the Detergent Poisoning and Child Safety (PACS) Act with eleven original co-sponsors. The bill would direct the U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC) to issue rules requiring safer, child-resistant packaging for liquid detergent packets within eighteen months of enactment. Senator Durbin released companion legislation today in the Senate.

Liquid detergent packets are popular, convenient, and dangerous because they deliver powerful chemicals in colorful, bite-sized packages that look like candy. From 2012 to 2013 the National Poison Data System received 17,230 calls involving children exposed to chemicals by the packets. Of those, 769 required hospitalization for issues including seizures, vomiting blood, fluid in the lungs, dangerously slow heartbeats, respiratory arrest, gastric burn, and comas, in addition to the death of a 7-month-old boy.

Many household products such as medicine and cleaning agents already require child-resistant packaging. The PACS Act would expand those CPSC rules to cover liquid detergent packets. It would require stronger, safer policies that cover the design and color of the packets, so that they aren’t as attractive to children; the composition of the packets, so that the consequences of exposure aren’t so severe; and the adequacy of the warning labels, to properly inform consumers about the risk.

“Toxic, concentrated detergent should not look like candy. Anyone with common sense can see how dangerous it is to have liquid detergent in colorful, bite-sized packets that children will inevitably swallow,” said Congresswoman Speier. “It is irresponsible to market a product that is so unsafe to children. These packets must be subject to the same robust safety measures and warning labels that we already expect on detergent, medicine, and similar household products.”

“Of course parents should do all that they can to keep laundry detergent packets out of the reach of children, but companies can do much more to address the rising number of poisonings head-on,” Senator Durbin said. “Making the design and color of packets less appealing to children, strengthening the water-soluble outer layer, and adding proper warning labels are common-sense protections for consumers similar to those for countless other household products. We can still have convenience without sacrificing safety for children and families.”

"Today, liquid detergent packets are getting more and more popular, but the protections for safety are completely inadequate, despite the known hazards. The research shows that these packets are much more likely to cause injury compared to traditional types of detergent," said Ellen Bloom, senior director of federal policy at Consumers Union, the advocacy arm of Consumer Reports. "We applaud the lawmakers for taking action to help protect small children from harm."

“The alarming number of incidents associated with laundry packets—more than 1,700 reports received by CPSC and over 17,000 reports received by poison centers across the country, and possibly two deaths—compel a strong and effective solution,” said Rachel Weintraub, legislative director and general counsel at the Consumer Federation of America. “We applaud the introduction of this legislation because it will institute a broad solution that will protect children from injury, illness, and death associated with laundry packets by addressing the accessibility of the packaging and the packets as well as the composition of the detergent.”

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