For those stuck doing the laundry, they’re great – the most concentrated liquid detergents ever created.
They’re convenient, pre-measured, and easy to use. Each is sealed in a film that dissolves in hot or cold water.
Or – take a breath – in a toddler’s stomach.
Imagine the same detergent packet from a small child’s vantage point. Colorful. Sweet-smelling. What could it be but candy?
Thus began Cidalia Lisboa’s nightmare. It was three weeks ago. The suburban Maryland hairdresser had rented a condo in Ocean City. A day on the beach with her three kids and fiancé whetted everyone’s appetite for pizza.
As Lisboa ordered, three-year-old Andreia wandered off. She found the laundry closet, a pack of detergent pods, and bit into one. Lisboa said the screams she heard next will haunt her forever.
She describes Andreia as a little girl who speaks her mind in both English and fluent Portuguese. At that moment, there were no words in any language. Andreia was gasping and choking as the powerful liquid, meant to conquer the worst stains detergent chemists can imagine, attacked her stomach.
A call to Poison Control ended quickly. “Hang up and call 911. Now!”
Instead, primal instincts overtook logic. Lisboa and her fiancé grabbed the keys, intending to drive Andreia to the closest clinic. A mistake, they realized as the little girl’s condition quickly worsened. When she managed to gasp a breath, Andreia promised to never again eat “that bad candy.”
The couple saw a fire station and pulled in. The station was a small one and the team was on call. They saw an emergency phone. This time they called 911.
The story ends happily two days later, after Andreia was medevaced to Children’s Hospital in Washington, D.C. Lisboa was not allowed to fly with her daughter on the helicopter, but stayed by her side after finally arriving. Andreia was heavily sedated and on a ventilator for much of the time.
Lisboa accepts responsibility for not keeping a closer eye on her daughter, and for not kid-proofing the condo.
Yet it turns out that 5,753 kids age five or younger were “exposed to single-load laundry packs” from Jan. 1 to July 31, according to the American Association of Poison Control Centers.
Consumer Reports has also been on the case, pushing for manufacturers to eliminate see-through packaging.
Lisboa notes that Andreia’s case occurred around the same time a Florida baby died after eating a detergent packet. She knows her story could have ended the same way. That it didn’t is a miracle, and she is making it a point to share her concerns about detergent pods with as many parents as possible.
AAPCC Fact Sheet on Laundry Detergent Packets:
Consumer Reports article:
Florida Child’s Death; New York Daily News:
Read more posts by Steve Piacente, a former print journalist and correspondent. Steve is a blogger for JenningsWire.