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The dangers of the Tide Pod Challenge

By Jennifer Dettwiller
On January 31, 2018

The #TidePodChallenge has taken over social media because people are ingesting them. The label shows it should not be handled  by children and kept away from eyes. Additionally, the warning is clear on the dangers. Jennifer Dettwiller/The Lion’s Roar

A Utah State University student recently became an example of the “Tide Pod Challenge” dangers. 

The challenge, which began as a joke, resulted in participants harming themselves. The college student as of now is hospitalized from what the police called a “Tide Pod Overdose” roughly a week ago, according to a Fox News article.

Tide Pods are Tide detergent products, which have warning labels on them stating to not ingest and keep out of the reach of children. However, since this challenge has begun, stores such as Walmart have had to lock up detergent products in-store.

Associate Professor of Chemistry Dr. Phillip Voegel discussed why some people may feel the urge to participate in this social media phenomenon.

“To get myself on YouTube,” said Voegel. “That’s probably the biggest one. To put yourself out on social media, say, ‘Look I did this like everybody else,’ and there’s the peer pressure aspect of course where my friend did that so I can do that to. I think those are probably the biggest things.”

Organic medicinal chemistry professor Dr. Jean Fotie explained the chemicals that combine to make ingesting a detergent pod dangerous. 

“A tide pod contains a number of chemicals ranging from polyvinyl alcohol, which is the water-soluble polymer film used to hold the detergent pod together, to fatty acid salts which help remove greasy stains,” said Fotie. “Additional constituents include alcohol ethoxy sulfate, which is surfactant, disodium distyrylbiphenyl disulfonate that helps clothes keep their original bright colors, and enzymes such as mannanase, amylase and subtilisin that help break down food residues, starch-based stains as well as stains from the dead outer layer of skin cells. To enable enzymes and surfactants to work more effectively together, diethylenetriamine pentaacetate, sodium salt is usually added.”

Individually, these chemicals are not acutely toxic, Fotie informed. The effects once ingested as a whole become dangerous in some cases.

“Compounds like disodium distyrylbiphenyl disulfonate have been reported to cause skin and eyes irritation, and animal studies have shown that they induce severe irritation of internal organs at low doses,” said Fotie. “In fact, individuals with sensitive skin are usually advised to avoid any topical contact with detergents containing this ingredient. Diethylenetriamine pentaacetate, sodium salt is the conjugated base of pentetic acid, and can also cause some severe irritation in the stomach. Furthermore, a combination of all these molecules and enzymes might induce chemical reactions resulting in compounds that might be more toxic than each of the individual compounds combined.”

Even with these facts, the full effects on the human body, if one ingests a tide pod, is still not well studied, meaning it is not completely understood, according to Fotie.

The University Health Center has a protocol intact in case a student does decide to participate in the “Tide Pod Challenge,” and can seek help. Nurse Practioner and Health Center Director Andrea Peevy explained the action that would be taken in this scenario.

“Call poison control at 1-800-222-1222 and campus police/EMS if indicated,” said Peevy. “How to treat the individual varies depending on the symptoms they are experiencing.”

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