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SALT LAKE CITY — At least 14 Utahns have had potentially harmful run-ins with laundry detergent packets in the first three weeks of this month.
Those reports were made to the Utah Poison Control Center, which said on Wednesday that the majority of them involved children under age 6.
"These are not necessarily all people who are intentionally ingesting them," said Barbara Insley Crouch, executive director at the Poison Control Center in Salt Lake City. She said the statistics don't differ much from last year, when 172 of the 203 cases involving laundry packets involved small children.
The data may suggest that what is being called the "Tide pod challenge" — a social media-driven trend in which teens are dared by peers to eat laundry detergent that then foams out of their mouth — isn't gaining much ground in the Beehive State.
And hopefully, Crouch said, people are taking more precaution with the potentially harmful product in their homes.
"We've had a couple of cases involving reports about teens and even adults who have intentionally bitten into the laundry packets, but not very many," Crouch said. "You have to remember, these are sort of dares, sort of an intentional misuse, I would call it, and we don't always hear about those kinds of exposures unless something goes awry."
Much of what is done "for kicks," she said, isn't reported unless there is an adverse outcome.
The American Association of Poison Control Centers, which received nearly 12,300 calls regarding exposure to laundry packets in 2017, reports that their data indicates that fewer people across the nation are mishandling the nonconsumable packets since they were first released in 2012.
The organization reported receiving more calls for issues with hand sanitizer, toothpaste, deodorant and mouthwash, respectively, but is still concerned with a recent spike in issues with laundry detergent pods likely due to the ongoing trend.
Proctor & Gamble, which manufactures Tide detergent and many other household brands, has reported increased revenue recently, but also said Tuesday that it is working hard to deter misuse of its product.
Shortly after releasing the single-load laundry packets, the company outfitted containers with a "double latch lid" to keep kids out, and this last weekend, Tide enlisted NFL player Rob Gronkowski in a short video telling teens not to ingest the detergent.
The company is seeking to take down any videos circulating on YouTube related to the challenge and is asking parents to tell kids that "their life and health matter more than clicks."
Crouch said that ingesting laundry detergent and many other household soaps can cause stomach irritation, vomiting and/or diarrhea, but those reactions are intensified with the concentrated form, such as what is enclosed in a Tide pod or other brand of single-use laundry detergent packets.
"Once those packets came out, we all of a sudden saw children having adverse effects that were way out of proportion to what we normally saw with laundry detergents," Crouch said, adding that ingesting the packets can lead to a loss of consciousness, seizures and/or respiratory problems.
The concentrated formulas, enclosed in a plastic, soluble casing, can also leave chemical burns in the esophagus or irritate a person's eyes upon contact.
"It's meant to dissolve in the laundry, so if you're handling it with wet hands, the membrane can weaken and you can inadvertently squirt yourself," Crouch said. She encourages people to lock up all detergents, especially when children are around.
"People feel like they're very convenient, but they are brightly colored, they're attractive and mistaken even by adults for something that is edible, like candy, even though they are on the large side for that," she said. "These need to be put up and locked up because they are dangerous."
The Poison Control Center can be reached by calling 1-800-222-1222.
Contributing: Mary Richards