Iowa Poison Control Center: #TidePodChallenge ‘not really the smartest thing to do’

Illustration by Jordan Sellergren

More Iowans have poisoned themselves by deliberately putting laundry detergent pods in their mouths during the first three weeks of January than during all of last year, the Iowa Poison Control Center (IPCC) reported this week. Poison control centers around the country have also seen similar spikes, thanks to the popularity of the #TidePodChallenge that has gone viral on YouTube and social media platforms in recent weeks.

The Tide Pod Challenge involves videos of people — usually, but not always, teenagers — putting laundry detergent pods into their mouths and then biting down. In some videos, the pod-eater heats the pod in a frying pan before chomping on it.

By the beginning of this week, the Sioux City-based IPCC already had received five calls about people deliberately ingesting detergent pods — four teenagers and one adult. In 2017, the center only got four such calls.

“We’re trying to remind people that putting a poison in your mouth is not really the smartest thing to do,” Tammy Noble, a registered nurse and IPCC education coordinator, told the Sioux City Journal. “When you get those highly concentrated detergents that are found in the pod into your mouth and you swallow, it can cause some pretty significant diarrhea and vomiting.”

Noble also told the Journal that chewing the pods “could result in burns to the mouth, throat and stomach.” According to the American Association of Poison Control Centers (AAPCC), other known potential effect include “seizures, pulmonary edema, respiratory arrest, coma, and even death.”

The AAPCC announced this week that “In the first fifteen days of 2018 alone, centers [around the country] have already handled thirty-nine [instances of poisoning by deliberately ingesting laundry pods].” In 2016, poison control center handled only 39 cases during the entire year. That grew to 53 cases in 2017.

YouTube and Facebook have announced they are making efforts to pull all #TidePodChallenge videos from their platforms. Tide has clearly stated that people shouldn’t eat its products or put them in their mouths. Washington Post reporter Mark Berman tweeted a screenshot of Tide’s official Twitter account attempting to cope with reports of pod-eating.

Before #TidePodChallenge went viral, almost all cases of laundry detergent pod poisoning involved small children or elderly adults mistaking the brightly colored pods for candy. Detergent manufacturers have been criticized since the product was first introduced for making their pods look edible.

In 2012, U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer held a press conference in which he called on the Consumer Product Safety Commission to require that manufacturers make their look less candy like.

“I saw one on my staffer’s desk and I wanted to eat it,” the New York Democrat said.

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