As a viral phenomenon, the “Tide pod challenge” — a bit of social media-driven inanity where teenagers dare one another to eat packets of concentrated laundry detergent — has been less-than-contagious in Colorado, according to a new analysis published this week.
But poison control experts say the pods still pose a risk, especially to toddlers who are drawn to their bright colors and, unlike online pranksters, don’t know not to eat them.
Between October and Jan. 22, the Rocky Mountain Poison and Drug Center received 134 calls from people who ingested or were otherwise exposed to the concentrated soaps inside the pods, such as having them break and squirt in their eyes. Of those, 53 calls came from people in Colorado, according to a new report from the Colorado Health Institute. (The Rocky Mountain Poison and Drug Center, which is operated by Denver Health, takes calls from five western states.)
The vast majority of the calls were for unintentional exposures, such as those involving little kids. But seven people who called poison control during that time said they meant to bite into a laundry pod.
“That could have been the result of a prank, a dare, social media challenge or whatever,” said Shireen Banerji, a toxicologist and clinical manager at the poison center.
The “Tide pod challenge” picked up steam online this month, prompting the CEO of Procter & Gamble, which owns Tide, to plead for it to stop. Earlier this month, a Thunder Ridge High School student took a bite out of a pod at school, prompting a visit to the school nurse.
Banerji said ingesting the concentrated soaps inside a laundry pod most commonly causes intense vomiting, diarrhea, throat soreness and stomach pains. But some people, such as those with asthma, are especially sensitive to the chemicals and have experienced trouble breathing, she said.
Calls about laundry pods first started coming into the poison center earlier this decade. The center recorded 129 calls just for Colorado in 2012, and that number peaked at 267 in 2015. Since then it has declined, to 195 calls last year for Colorado.
Those numbers pale compared to the center’s overall call volume, which is about 50,000 calls per year just for Colorado. Pain medications, both prescription and over-the-counter, are the most frequent source of concern, Banerji said.
Still, for a prank, Banerji said Colorado’s Tide pod cases aren’t anything to smirk about.
“It’s a foolish dare,” she said. “It doesn’t get you high. It just makes you sick.”