EU acts to protect children from laundry tabs

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Media captionAll brightly-coloured laundry capsules are to have a bitter-tasting coating to make them less attractive to children

The European Commission has introduced rules which aim to prevent children being poisoned by laundry capsules.

More than 800 million gel capsules, or liquitabs, are sold every year in the UK.

Their popularity has been accompanied by a surge in poisonings of children under five, who are attracted by their brightly coloured, sweet-like appearance.

BBC Scotland has highlighted the dangers of the capsules several times.

Under the new EU regulations, from 1 June all laundry capsules must be packaged in non-transparent boxes, with warnings and a child-resistant closure. They must also be insoluble for 6 seconds and be impregnated with a bitter flavour so that a child will spit out the tab.

It is expected it will take six months before capsules manufactured under the new regulations replace those currently on sale.

The head of sustainability and safety at the European consumer organisation BEUC, Sylvia Maurer, said: "It is reassuring that the European Commission swiftly took action to mitigate the risk of laundry detergents after poisoning incidents of young children were reported.

"Having binding rules which go beyond voluntary industry action are indispensable to keep consumers safe in the internal market."

One bitter flavouring which is likely to be used by some manufacturers is Bitrex, which is manufactured in Edinburgh by Macfarlane Smith.

"We see aversive agents like Bitrex as a last line of defence," said business manager Gina Mercier.

"It isn't a substitute for safe storage and child-resistant packaging, but as most liquitab incidents take place when they are in use, Bitrex is a final reassurance for parents.

"Bitrex is the bitterest substance in the world, and its inclusion makes it almost impossible for even the most determined child to swallow a potentially dangerous detergent."

Reconstructive surgery

The European Commission decided to act after research by the Organisation for European Co-operation and Development (OECD) found poisonings were widespread across Europe.

There were 1,486 incidents involving laundry capsules in the UK between May 2009 and July 2012, equating to more than one a day. In France there were 7,500 reports between 2005 and 2013, and Ireland experienced 200 incidents in 2012 and 2013.

Most involved children under five and some required reconstructive surgery.

The products were launched in 2001, but it took 12 years for opaque packaging, warning labels and child-resistant catches to be rolled out. Before the EU ruling, only Tesco had added a bitter flavour to its own-brand laundry capsules.

The director general of the UK Cleaning Products Industry Association denied that the industry had been slow to act.

"The industry has moved quickly," he said.

"The legislation has adopted what we were already doing. The final key is in the home. It's down to the parents to use the products responsibly and keep them out of reach - and that goes for other household products too, such as bleach."

He pointed out that his organisation has been supporting the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, and other children's charities, to help parents improve safety in the home.

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