MIAMI – A 7-month-old Florida boy has died after swallowing a candy-colored liquid laundry packet, raising concerns about the access that young children have to the increasingly popular products.
The Florida Poison Information Center says the boy's death may be the first in the U.S. involving young children who were exposed to chemicals in concentrated laundry packets since May 2012, when the center first received an exposure report. The center says it has received almost 300 exposure reports so far this year.
"With young children, any household product is likely to end up in their mouth," said Dr. Cynthia Lewis-Younger, the center's medical director. Most exposures in Florida involved children tasting or licking the concentrated liquid packets, which don't cause children to become seriously ill.
"Parents know that things in the house can be dangerous and they call for advice. And (in) many of those cases we can reassure parents," she said.
The American Association of Poison Control Centers said national data for this year had not yet been compiled, but that this kind of poisoning death had not been reported in prior years.
The boy was taken from a shelter for abused women to the hospital Friday afternoon "in some distress" and pronounced dead about an hour later, said Kissimmee Police spokesman Capt. Warren Shepard.
Police declined to release further information, citing the ongoing investigation. No charges had been filed.
The Florida Department of Children and Families said it had prior history with the family of the boy, Michael Williams, but officials declined comment.
"While we have the cause of death, we just don't know if it was as a result of abuse or neglect, which prevents us at this point in the investigation from opening the records or giving out any detailed information about our involvement with the family," DCF said in a statement Thursday.
Police and child welfare officials have not identified the mother, citing privacy concerns.
"We continue to work with law enforcement as the investigation moves forward into the circumstances surrounding the poisoning," the DCF statement said. "The death of little Michael is a tragedy. It reminds all of us as parents of the dangers of leaving household cleaning supplies around our little ones."
More than 5,700 children under the age of 5 were exposed to the chemicals in the concentrated packets so far this year, according to the American Association of Poison Control Centers. There were no reported deaths before 2012, the most recent records available and when the bright blue-and-red packets first came on the market.
"People are not listening to the warnings," said Bruce Ruck with the New Jersey Poison Center. "Last year at about this time, there were quite a few issues relating to this," he said of children swallowing the single-dose packs, with many of them ending up on ventilators and in intensive care units.
Hundreds of children across the U.S. have required hospitalization for ingesting the chemicals in the packets — suffering loss of consciousness, excessive vomiting, drowsiness, throat swelling, and difficulty breathing.
The Procter & Gamble Co., makers of the orange-and-purple Tide Pods, has a Safe Home campaign to help "educate consumers on the correct use and storage of household cleaning and fabric care products." The company also rolled out redesigned packaging this year, including an opaque container and double-latch lid that is child-resistant.
"We are seeing more consistent warning labels and some companies move to opaque packaging," said Scott Wolfson, spokesman for the Consumer Product Safety Commission which "has been working on this issue for quite some time." Commission Chairman Inez Moore Tenenbaum has called on the industry to take steps to make the packets safer — and less appealing to children — and to develop a comprehensive safety standard.