Chemicals and Their Effect on Children

Suzanne  -  Jul 31, 2012  -  ,  - 

Chemicals (Not Candy)

The headline on a recent article in The Globe and Mail says it all: “Detergent Pods Have Poison-Control World on Edge.” The article details how detergent pods – concentrated laundry products packaged in single-use packets that can be thrown directly into the washing machine – have caused numerous poisonings among children in Canada and the U.S. Reports say more than 1,000 American children and several dozen Canadian children have been poisoned by the pods over the last few months – although the absence of a national poison reporting database in Canada means that the numbers are likely much higher.

Detergent pods are colourful, shiny, and look a lot like candy. The American Association of Poison Control Centres has reported that several infants under two years of age had to be put on ventilators after biting into detergent pods. Health Canada issued a warning on July 12 warning about the potential dangers of detergent pods.

According to The Globe and Mail, “Laundry detergent pods have put the poison control world on edge because the pods seem to have strong toxic effects if eaten by children, although it’s unclear why.”

As Dragonfly’s Grade 7 students would say, “Uh, hello.” Laundry detergents are full of toxic chemicals. The chemical companies that make laundry products – including Proctor & Gamble (maker of Tide and Gain), Church & Dwight Co. (maker of Arm & Hammer and OxiClean), Dial Corp. (maker of Purex), and Sun Products Corp. (maker of All) – aren’t required under law to disclose their ingredients, because the exact recipes are considered “trade secrets.” However, laundry products are known to contain chemicals that lead to a range of negative health effects, from skin irritation and respiratory problems to endocrine-system disruption and cancerous tumours.

Laundry products are made from petrochemicals and contain synthetic fragrances – even when they’re advertised as “fragrance free.” Most companies also add optical brighteners to their detergent formulas – these additives don’t actually clean your laundry; they emit blue light, making whites appear whiter by tricking the eye. The corporations making these products list other common chemicals on product labels using descriptive terms that make them seem benign: “soil suspending and colour protecting agents,” “soil anti-redeposition agent,” “buffering agent,” and “stabilizer.” In fact, these “agents” are damaging your health, contaminating waterways, and harming the environment.

When scented laundry detergent and dryer sheets are used, dryer vents can emit more than 25 volatile organic compounds (VOCs) into the air, including seven VOCs that are classified in the U.S. as “hazardous air pollutants.” One ingredient in particular – the surfactant known as sodium laurel/laureth sulfate – was tested by the U.S.-based Environmental Working Group and shown to cause skin and eye irritation; organ toxicity; developmental/reproductive toxicity; neurotoxicity; endocrine (hormonal) disruption; biochemical and cellular changes; mutations; and cancer.

Any wonder why children have “strong toxic effects” when they eat this stuff?

These products are designed to stay on clothes long after laundry day, never fully rinsing out. This means these chemicals come into daily contact with skin, which is the largest organ in the human body. All citizens – but especially educators – should be concerned about the effects these chemicals are having on our children, especially on their social, emotional, physical, and intellectual development.

It would be easy for Dragonfly to end this post with a generic statement, something like, “We should be outraged at the corporations’ lack of responsibility toward all life on the planet.” But here’s a better idea: stop buying these products – buy eco-friendly products or make your own instead. Doing so will disrupt the corporations’ profit-oriented agenda and protect the health of our children.


Many people believe that buying natural or organic products costs more. However, those on a limited budget will find that eco-friendly or homemade products are actually far more economical, simply because you can use much smaller amounts:

Simple Washing Powder Recipe
16 cups baking soda
12 cups washing soda (also known as sodium carbonate)
8 cups grated castile soap
3 tablespoons essential oil of lavender, lemon, or grapefruit (optional)

Combine baking soda, washing soda, and soap flakes. If using, add essential oil and mix with a wire whisk. Use 1/8 cup per load. Makes enough powder to last a family of four for one year.

Natural Laundry Soap Recipe
1 cup soap flakes
½ cup washing soda
½ cup borax

Mix ingredients together and stir well. Use ½ cup per load; add to water in the machine before adding clothes. Wash as normal, but make sure to rinse with cold water.

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