Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Detergent Pods Look Like Candy

Let me tell you about Mr. Yuk.

Dangerous things have often been marked by the symbol of a skull and crossbones. This, of course, includes poisonous substances, starting in the United States in 1829, when New York State required that all containers with poisonous substances in them be marked with something to indicate that fact. Skull and crossbones being the easy association, that's what was used, and things proceeded as such for years.

But in Pittsburgh, there was one big complicating factor: the Pittsburgh Pirates. Skulls and crossbones are also associated with pirates, and in the 1970's, they were more associated with the baseball team than with any sort of danger, as the team at the time displayed one on the logo itself and cemented it in everyone's mind with a World Series title in 1971. Which meant it wasn't a very good deterrent for Pittsburgh children anymore, some of whom proceeded to start drinking the funny-looking bottle with the pirate on the label.

Dr. Richard Moriarty of the Pittsburgh Children's Hospital put two and two together when confronted with a surge in visits from parents who would have been better off calling Poison Control. He decided that the skull and crossbones just wasn't working anymore, and that a new label should be put on things that, first, would actually get children's attention, and second, would get parents pointed in the right direction in case it didn't. After some focus testing quizzing kids on the type of logo and the color, a sickly-green face sticking its tongue out came out the winner, with one kid saying he looked yucky. The name stuck.

When the Pittsburgh Steelers made it to their first Super Bowl a few years later, guess who got themselves a Super Bowl commercial.

The point here is, if you don't want kids to eat something poisonous, don't make it look in any way attractive to kids. Don't make it look, oh, say, like a little handheld packet of neon blue and orange, like a detergent pod would look. The thing is, I knew as soon as I first saw detergent pods on retail shelves that kids were going to eventually figure it was candy, and what do you know, some 17,000 of them did in 2012 and 2013- 2012 being their year of introduction- resulting in some 700 hospital visits and the death of one 7-month-old infant in Kissimmee, Florida. The 17,000 number here relies on calls to Poison Control, so the true number is probably a tad higher as some parents went right to the doctor and skipped the call to Poison Control. All the kids were under six years old, about 2/3rds were at most two.

The kids likely don't know any better. Certainly the 7-month-old that died didn't. However, the people that buy them, and certainly the companies that make them, do. If it's a thing you're doing your laundry with, and it's not something you have a place to physically keep it away from the kids, it's probably worth investing in a Mr. Yuk sticker. Or maybe just using regular detergent, which seems to invite less-serious symptoms in kids than the pods should that be swallowed.

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