PDF: Tide pods poison
I’ve written before in this column about the danger of laundry pods, those colorful little plastic pods that contain measured amounts of laundry detergent. Since they were first introduced to the mass market in 2012 as Tide Pods, they’ve been the target of kids, lured by the bright colors and candylike appearance.
The pods were heralded as a time- and mess-saver; instead of pouring liquid detergent from a bottle or powders from a box, all you had to do was throw the pod in with the wash and that was it. The products inside remained dry until the water from the wash cycle dissolved the plastic coating, dispensing the product at the right time. Actually, the concept came from medicine, which has used timed-release capsules for decades. Following the success of Tide pods, Tide parent company Proctor & Gamble and a number of other detergent companies subsequently started putting their products in a pod-like package.
But there was a problem: in 2013, Consumer Reports notes, thousands of children were being rushed to the hospital after eating or biting into the pods, which they mistook for candy. At least one 7-month-old child died after eating one. Soon, senior-citizen advocates began warning that the products could also be eaten by adults with dementia if not kept out of reach.
Now, we have the “Tide Pod Challenge.” In the past several weeks, accounts of teenagers eating Tide Pods on a dare have blasted through social media, resulting in memes such as a pizza covered in pods, and perhaps most disturbingly, teens biting into the pods and spitting out the distasteful contents. Although the possibility of eating a Tide Pod was (according to Forbes) first mentioned in 2015, the phenomenon quickly picked up steam as it erupted on Twitter, then Youtube and other social media, in mid-2017.
According to the American Poison Control Center, centers around the country recorded 39 cases of intentional laundry pod “exposures” among 13- to 19-year-olds in the first two weeks of January. That’s nearly equal to the number of cases in all of 2017.
This rash of apparent insanity has become serious enough for the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission to warn people about the dangers of ingesting the colorful pods. (“A meme should not become a family tragedy,” warn the CPSC’s social-media posts. “Don’t eat poison.”)
Although you would think most people would understand not to intentionally ingest cleaning products, it bears repeating here. Consumer Reports notes the average detergent pod contains a cocktail of chemicals, of which those in the average bar of soap are just the start. Pods vary in the number and type of chemicals inside, but one recent report estimated more than 700 chemicals are in a standard pod (many of them toxic).
What happens when you ingest the contents of a pod is not a pretty story. The thin layer of plastic starts to break down immediately from your saliva and gastric juices, releasing its contents into your mouth and esophagus. When you ingest those chemicals, notes the Consumer Reports article, they begin to burn your esophagus and continue wreaking havoc through your digestive system. You could die.
Of course, a lot of people on social media are having a lot of fun with the concept, as they did with the Cinnamon Challenge a few years ago. And, the number of people who are actually biting into or consuming Tide Pods is probably a small fraction of those who say they’re doing it. The story will likely continue to build for a while longer, until the social-media world gets bored with it and moves on to something else. The fact the mainstream media is covering it may hasten its demise as a counter-cultural phenomenon. Regardless, this is one fad many of us will be glad to see in the rearview mirror.