The Dangers of Liquitabs

By Guest Blogger – Stephen Wilkins

Stephen Wilkins biog picLiquitabs are those pretty, shiny, multi-coloured, single-use detergent packs, that need not be unwrapped, because they are totally soluble. As well as looking attractive, they contain a measured dose, so you never use either too much or too little detergent. The problem is, they are pretty harmful when children eat them; and as they look like sweeties this is a real danger.

Injuries to children caused by liquitabs are becoming increasingly frequent, as highlighted last month by doctors at the Royal Hospital for Sick Children in Glasgow.  Liquid tablets for dishwashers and washing machines are highly toxic and very dangerous to children.  They are brightly coloured and look like sweets, and are easy to squeeze or bite.  Children may find them in floor level unlocked cupboards or, more often, in the drawer in the machine.

Child resistant packaging has been shown to be the most effective and best-documented means of reducing ingestion of harmful substances by children (World Health Organization/UNICEF 2008).  Since the 1970s when child resistant packs were first introduced, child poisonings have fallen dramatically.  Child resistant packaging of liquitabs may become mandatory in June 2015 when CLP/GHS becomes fully effective, as it is now for certain other harmful cleaning products and some medicines.

CLP/GHS is a risk-based regulation and mixtures that damage skin or eyes if splashed, airways if inhaled or poison the child if ingested; must from June 2015 be packed in child resistant containers.

Education of parents and caregivers regarding the hazards of liquitabs will also help to prevent future fatalities and injuries.

Dishwasher tablets are extremely alkali and corrosive, meaning that they quickly burn any skin they come into contact with.  If a child squeezes a liquitab until it bursts, it may cause severe burns to the skin or eyes.

Swallowing or putting a liquitab into the mouth is even worse.  The liquid causes swelling which may close the child’s airways, making it impossible to breathe.  It can also burn the inside of the throat and stomach causing long term damage.

One toddler swallowed a dishwasher product and was rushed to hospital, coughing and vomiting.  The product had caused chemical burns to her throat, stomach and voice box.  Her injuries were so bad that she needed to be fed through a tube for 16 months.  She eventually made a full recovery, after 18 separate operations to repair the damage.

The extent of damage caused may not be obvious at first.  Swallowing a very alkaline substance, such as that found in liquitabs, is known to increase the risk of cancer.  Oesophageal cancer has been linked to this type of poisoning up to 81 years later.

Risk based regulations like CLP/GHS are more general in application and coverage than product specific ones. This means that a large number of products will come into regulation for the first time in 2015. Manufacturers and packer/fillers need to be specifying child resistant packs now if they are to meet the summer 2015 deadline. This development period of just over eighteen months is even more critical where totally new packs are needed as will be the case with liquitabs.

Stephen Wilkins is a founder and director of Wilkins and Wilkins Company Ltd and of the Child Safe Packaging Group