In multiple exchanges with Fortune, P&G emphasized its efforts to educate the public on how to use pods safely—through labeling, advertising, in-person safety education sessions, and the blogs of influencers the company works with. When the Tide Pod Challenge became a sensation in late 2017, injuries were few, but the negative publicity was immediate—and P&G’s response was swift. The Tide Twitter account admonished teenagers never to eat packets. The company quickly produced a TV spot featuring All-Pro New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski, lecturing, “Use Tide Pods for washing, not eating.”
P&G’s emphasis on education is a kinder, gentler version of a defense that’s common to consumer product manufacturers: that shoppers are ultimately responsible for using products properly—or not. But consumer advocates chafe at the implication that the primary fault for pod injuries lies with parents and caregivers. With a mass-market product like this, says Caplan, the ethicist, “the duty is there, when any product enters the household, to make sure that it is as safe as can be.”
Consumer advocates are adamant that detergent-makers haven’t cleared that bar. What’s more, says Gary Smith, the injury expert, American society has largely bought into the belief that household injuries are entirely about personal responsibility. “When you talk to a parent whose child has been injured and brought into the emergency department … they will tell you, ‘It wasn’t the product, doctor. It was me. I’m a bad parent. I didn’t watch my child carefully enough,’ ” Smith says. “They’ve bought the myth that it’s them that’s the problem.”
For now, federal regulators appear largely satisfied with the industry’s recent improvements. In an email to Fortune, CPSC spokesperson Patty Davis wrote approvingly of the 2017 data that “showed statistically significant declines in hospitalization rates and in [emergency-department] visits per product sold”—the same numbers P&G cites—though Davis also noted that the commission wants to keep working with the safety standards group “to reduce the unreasonable risk of ingestions.”
State and federal legislators may try to crack down more firmly. Aravella Simotas, a former lawyer who now represents a Queens district in the New York State Assembly, recalls her alarm a few years ago when her then 1-year-old daughter picked up a Tide Pod that had fallen on the floor. “She was looking at it very closely,” says Simotas, who grabbed it before her daughter could get hurt. “You have to understand, my child never put anything in her mouth.” In February 2018, Simotas and Brad Hoylman, a state senator from Manhattan, sent a letter to P&G calling on the company to change its designs and threatening to press for legislation that would ban all laundry detergent pod sales in the state “unless pods are designed in an opaque, uniform color; not easily permeated by a child’s bite; and individually enclosed in a separate child-resistant wrapper” with a warning on it. In a phone interview, Hoylman references the Tide Pod Challenge: “I’m not trying to protect stupid teenagers from making viral videos about Tide Pods. I’m trying to protect young children.”
If New York were to pass a bill, of course, its scope would be limited to one state. Legislative action at the congressional level is something consumer advocates aren’t counting on, since the odds of a laundry-pod bill being passed by a Senate that’s skeptical of regulation, and signed by a President who has vowed to reduce the regulatory burden on companies, seem slim.
现在判断私人诉讼是否会不会比政府更快还说不好。Wright & Schulte事务所律师理查德·舒尔特代表曼西利亚斯和鲍尔斯家提起诉讼，他表示目前争取跟宝洁就70起案件达成庭外和解。据他介绍，之前针对其他凝珠制造商的索赔案件均已达成庭外解决。
It’s too early to tell whether private lawsuits could move the needle further than the government has. Richard Schulte, an attorney with Wright & Schulte who is bringing legal claims on behalf of the Mancillas and Powers families, says his firm is attempting to reach settlements with P&G outside the court system on 70 cases. He says the firm has resolved all of its claims against other pod manufacturers out of court.
The main reason there aren’t many lawsuits against pod manufacturers, Schulte says, is that most lawyers don’t know how dangerous the product is. “When I tell other top trial lawyers, confidentially, that I’m bringing claims against the pod manufacturers, they look at me like I’m a martian,” he says. Furthermore, most pod-related cases involve injuries that are not life-threatening and thus won’t command large payouts if they win.
P&G declines to comment on whether it has paid any out-of-court settlements. Tellingly, P&G has never mentioned Tide Pod litigation as a business risk in its 10-K filings, going back to 2012, the year its pods were launched. (In contrast, Johnson & Johnson’s latest 10-K has a long section on liabilities that describes, among other things, the financial risks incurred through lawsuits that have linked J&J’s talcum powders to cancer.)
That leaves the court of public opinion, where P&G will presumably suffer only if it’s perceived as not putting the safety of its customers first. Pod sales growth has slowed at P&G since the product’s heady early days, but sales were still up 4.4% year over year in 2018, at $1.17 billion, per Euromonitor, and the company’s stock hit an all-time high in early February.
Consumers, meanwhile, are left to make calculations of their own about the value of convenience versus risk. That math is still playing out in the lives of Katie and Bella Mancillas. Katie says that arguments with Bella’s father about the poisoning incident contributed to the divorce they’re going through. Only 23 years old at the time, Katie dropped out of college to take care of Bella. She is now studying to be a social worker.
Katie’s own conclusion about laundry pods: “Take the extra five minutes to pour the laundry [detergent] yourself. It’s not worth losing your children.”
This article originally appeared in the March 2019 issue of Fortune.