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Democrats Take Aim at Liquid Detergent Packaging

Nelson, Durbin and Speier say the liquid detergent packets look like bite-sized candy. (Hannah Hess/CQ Roll Call)

"Now that's pretty attractive," said Sen. Bill Nelson, eyeing a half dollar-sized packet of liquid laundry detergent on Thursday morning, before stroking the squishy blue orb against his well-tanned jaw.  

"And it feels really nice to the touch," the Florida Democrat cooed. "And it smells good," he added, coaxing a reporter covering the news conference on liquid detergent package poisoning to pass his prop on to the cameramen. "Pass it on because until you touch it, you don't realize how attractive it is."  

Nelson's theatrical performance elicited some laughter during an otherwise somber presentation that featured a mother whose 8-month-old daughter ended up in intensive care after biting into one of the colorful, bite-sized packages of highly concentrated, single-load detergent. Liquid detergent packaging exposure is also linked to the death of a 7-month-old boy in Florida.  

"It ought to be common sense that things that are attractive are going to enter into the mouth of an infant," Nelson said. He also took a quick swipe at one of Democrats' favorite foes , e-cigarettes, comparing the colorful detergent to liquid vials of nicotine.  

In response to recent poisonings, Senate Minority Whip Richard J. Durbin has introduced legislation that would give the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission the authority and direction to issue rules requiring safer, child-resistant packaging for liquid detergent products within 18 months of enactment. Six Senate Democrats, including Nelson, are co-sponsoring the bill.  

Durbin and Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., sponsor of companion legislation, also wrote to the commission, asking them to help. "The problem with that is government moves slowly," Durbin said. "And while the government is moving slowly, if it does move in the right direction, kids are at risk."  

Nelson, Durbin and Speier called on industry giants, starting with Procter & Gamble, to add protections to their products. They suggest changing the design and color of the liquid detergent packets to make them less appealing to children, changing the composition of the packets to make consequences of exposure less severe and adding proper warning labels.  

"If it had a bitter taste to it, the kid might spit it out right off the bat," Durbin said. The lawmakers plan to abandon the bill if those voluntary standards are accepted and put into practice. Durbin urged the industry: "Don't wait. Do it yourself, and do it in a hurry, because kids lives are at risk here."  

Related: Democrats Renew Press for Curbs on E-Cigarettes The 114th: CQ Roll Call's Guide to the New Congress Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call in your inbox or on your iPhone.