SAFEGUARDS | Cosmetics, Personal Care & Household NO. 158/16

SafeGuardS woman doing laundry

After hundreds of incidents were observed, ASTM published a standard recommending safety measures for liquid laundry packets. It details labelling, warning statements and both specifications and test methods for determining content retention, force compression and presence of aversive agents in the soluble film.

In November 2012 the US Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) first issued a Safety Alert about incidents where children and adults were injured by single-load laundry packets. [1] In March 2013, after hundreds of reports of injuries in the United States and Australia, both the CPSC and the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) issued a warning of the poison dangers of liquid laundry detergent packets. [2] Most of the reported incidents involved children under six, who can mistake the packets for candy, toys, or teething products.

Liquid laundry detergent packets are designed to dissolve readily on contact with moisture, but they can also dissolve when exposed to saliva or water on hands. Ingesting the contents of the packets can result in coughing, choking, vomiting, respiratory distress, loss of consciousness, irritation of the eyes and corneal burns, and even death.

After the Safety Alert, the ASTM Subcommittee on Liquid Laundry Packets (F15.71), part of Committee F15 on Consumer Products, was formed. It consulted representatives from the industry, advocacy groups, and consumers to develop a new standard.

In September 2015, ASTM issued the new safety standard for labeling and packaging individually wrapped liquid detergent laundry packets, ASTM F3159-15 ­­– Standard Safety Specification for Liquid Laundry Packets, superseded in December 2015 by ASTM F3159-15ε1. The new standard is voluntary and aims to reduce the risk of ingestion of packet contents, particularly by children.

Some key points from ASTM F3159-15ε1:

  • The standard applies exclusively to household liquid laundry detergent packets.

  • Packaging for liquid laundry detergent packets should be opaque or otherwise mask the visibility of the individual packets. It should not be labelled with graphics that make the opaque packaging appear transparent or translucent.

  • Each company is responsible for selecting an aversive agent for use in the soluble film of its packets that will elicit oral repulsive behaviour within six seconds.

  • Packaging should be difficult for children to open and it should not be possible to open it by brute force. Six means of achieving this are provided (e.g. the packaging can employ “two or more closure mechanisms that are interdependent”), and one or more of these must be used. Compliance must be maintained throughout the life cycle of the product.

  • The packaging should display prominent warnings and symbols on its front and side/back panels. The secondary container and the individually wrapped packets themselves should also display specified warnings.

  • The liquid detergent packet should retain its contents for at least 30 seconds when placed in water at 20°C.

  • The packet should resist compression of at least 300 N under standard test conditions.

The voluntary ASTM F3159-15ε1 standard also offers test methods to determine whether content retention, force compression and presence of aversive agents in the soluble film meet the ASTM standard specifications for liquid laundry packets.

The full text of the standard can be purchased online. [3]

A study [4] conducted by the Center for Injury Research and Policy (CIRP) of the Research Institute at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, Ohio, and the Central Ohio Poison Center from January 2013 to December 2014 (published April 2016) into the effects of exposure of children under six to laundry and dishwasher detergents found that exposure to laundry detergent in packets led to a much higher rate of serious adverse outcomes than exposure to other types of laundry detergent or dishwasher detergent. Study authors said that the ASTM’s voluntary standard “is a good first step, but it needs to be strengthened” and recommended that homes where children live or visit should only use traditional laundry detergent until binding safety requirements are implemented.

It is crucial that all cosmetic, personal care and household products are safe, effective and stable. SGS provides testing, inspection, auditing and consulting services to manufacturers, distributors and importers to ensure a high level of product quality in every area. Our state of the art laboratories offer custom-made solutions for chemical, biophysical, microbiological, stability and biological aspects. We also have extensive capabilities in performance testing, claim support studies and consumer panels. Our testing is conducted according to customer specific or recognized standard methods, some of which were developed by SGS. Our cosmetic safety assessors and other technical experts can support customers by making sure new products comply with regulatory requirements.

For enquiries, please contact:

Karen Rauen
Technical Director
, Cosmetics Personal Care and Household
t: +01 973 575-5252

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