NCEH Works With Poison Control Centers

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March is National Poison Prevention Month. Read about how NCEH and Poison Control Centers work together to protect health.


In May 2012, the Carolinas Poison Control Center in Charlotte received calls concerning two critically ill children. A 20-month-old boy and a 15-month-old boy had bitten into laundry detergent pods, those liquid laundry soap-filled capsules that you drop into your washing machine

During the same month, the Poison Control Center at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia received a call concerning a 17-month-old boy who also had bitten into a laundry detergent pod. In June 2012, a 10-month-old girl was taken to a local Philadelphia hospital after she too had bitten into a laundry detergent pod.

All four of the children experienced profuse vomiting and respiratory problems. Some of the children also experienced unresponsiveness and seizure-like activity, depressed nerve sensation, and drowsiness.

Sadly, this scenario was not limited to the four young children. Poison control centers across the country reported 485 instances of exposure to laundry detergent pods in just one month (May 17 to June 17, 2012). And most of these cases involved children five years old or younger.

Pods could look like candy to a baby

Royal Law, an epidemiologist with CDC’s National Center for Environmental Health (NCEH), believes children may be attracted to the laundry pods because they resemble pieces of candy. Law says that the rash of calls to poison control centers concerning laundry detergent pods spurred NCEH to investigate. During the investigation, NCEH partnered with the poison control centers in Charlotte and Philadelphia and the American Association of Poison Control Centers (AAPCC).

More about the MMWR Article

Researchers analyzed the calls to determine potential risk factors for illness and if these calls were associated with more adverse health effects than calls about exposures to non-pod laundry detergents such as liquids or powders. Information about what the investigators found was published in CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR).

NCEH, in conjunction with AAPCC, developed a new code for individual poison centers to use when reporting these calls to the national poison center’s National Poison Data System (NPDS). They then analyzed these calls and published their findings in an MMWR article entitled “Health Hazards Associated with Laundry Detergent Pods.”

NCEH surveillance of poison control centers

America’s 57 poison control centers serve all 50 states, Washington DC, Guam, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and the Federated States of Micronesia. AAPCC reported that in 2010 America’s poison control centers received about 4 million calls for the year.

Callers seek advice and medical assistance and ask questions about exposures from household cleaning products, foods and beverages, chemicals, environmental toxins, drugs and medicines, and animals and insect bites and stings.

poision help number

Through its surveillance activities, NCEH monitors the data uploaded to NPDS. NCEH uses the data it pulls from NPDS to identify health concerns from exposures.

“We are often in close contact with the directors of the poison control centers,” Law says. “They’re the ones on the front lines and have their fingers on the pulse of what’s going on.”

Tide, one of the first brands to introduce laundry pods, later redesigned their containers to feature a double-latched lid to make it harder for children to open.

Law and Joshua Schier, MD, an NCEH medical toxicologist and epidemiologist, believe this work sparked national discussion about the precautions parents and child caregivers should take in storing the products.

Schier pointed out that poison control centers provide financial savings. Schier says in many cases a call to a poison control center saves a trip to the emergency room.

“Studies have shown that for every $1 spent on a poison control center, much more in unnecessary medical expenses can be saved,” he says.

More information

Poison control centers are open 24-hours a day, seven days a week. If you have questions concerning exposures to poisons or need assistance during an emergency, then call 1-800-222-1222. This nationwide number will connect you to your local poison control center.

To learn more about NCEH’s Health Studies Branch activities visit

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Page last reviewed: July 9, 2015
Page last updated: July 9, 2015