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Severe Dishwasher Powder Poisonings Raise Concern

January 26, 2004

Severe Dishwasher Powder Poisonings Raise Concern

Recent admissions of five young children, poisoned in separate incidents with automatic dishwasher powders, highlights the need to ensure these detergent containers meet New Zealand Standards for child resistant packaging, says Safekids New Zealand.

Ann Weaver, Director of Safekids (the child safety service of Starship Children’s Health), says people also need to be aware just how dangerous these powders can be to children if swallowed. In the past four months five young children have been admitted to the hospital’s Intensive Care Unit after ingesting dishwasher powder. All of them had burns to their throats and upper airways; three had severe injuries and of these three children, two needed multiple operations.

“In most of these cases the children have ingested the powder straight from the bottles and the wide mouths on the containers meant they swallowed quite a lot of the powder quickly. Safekids and the medical staff involved in treating these children are very concerned at the number of cases of dishwasher powder related poisonings in such a short space of time.”

Ms Weaver says at the moment, the requirement for child resistant packaging is only voluntary and Safekids is concerned the types of caps being used might not meet New Zealand safety standards. Dishwashing powders are currently being assessed by Government to establish what sort of caps will be needed and whether child resistant packaging on these will be voluntary or mandatory. Safekids urges the requirement for a mandatory code.

Since the introduction of the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act (HSNO) in 1996, the Environmental Risk Management Authority (ERMA) has been responsible for developing and implementing a classification system for substances under this Act, including automatic dishwasher detergents. In 2001, new regulations governing the packaging of these substances were introduced to be used with the classification system. Until the classification is completed these powders come under the controls of prior legislation, in which the use of child resistant packaging is voluntary.

“Child resistant caps are a proven way of reducing child poisonings. We are urging greater speed in this classification process to prevent more children being injured,” Ms Weaver stated.

Eleven children were admitted to Starship Children’s Hospital after ingesting dishwasher powder between January 2001 and January 2005. Three of these children were admitted to the hospital’s Intensive Care Unit. Another two were admitted to the same unit this month.

More than 600 calls reporting that a child had ingested dishwasher powder were made to the National Poisons Centre between June 2002 and January 2005. The majority of these incidents involved children aged under two years of age.

Ms Weaver says while the need for child resistant packaging is important, caregivers must also play a key role in preventing poisonings by taking a few simple steps. Always keep dishwasher powder out of reach of young children; either at a height they can’t reach or in a cupboard with a lock. Ensure that the container’s lid is correctly closed after use, so children can’t get into it. Avoid having dishwashing powder in the machine as children can scoop this out and eat it. Put the powder in just before turning it on and clean out any sludgy residue that children could ingest.

Keep the product in its original container. Remember ‘child resistant’ isn’t the same as ‘child-proof’. If your child is poisoned, attempt to get the powder out of their mouth by either scooping it out or swilling their mouth with water and having them spit this out, and seek medical advice immediately. Caregivers should avoid making children vomit as this can cause more harm.

“Poisonings from dishwasher powders can be incredibly severe and can happen in only a few seconds, while parents are right there. It’s important that these products are stored and used correctly,” said Ms Weaver.


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