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detergent-packetsYou’ve probably seen those nifty little laundry detergent gel packs. The ones you just pop in the washing machine without worrying about heavy bottles or messy spills? Have you noticed how their tiny size and bright colors make them look surprisingly appealing—almost like a piece of candy or an infant teething toy? Kids are apparently thinking the same thing, according to a new study, resulting in a wave of accidental poisonings and at least two deaths.

The convenient, single-load packets first entered the market about two years ago, and currently about ten different brands offer them. From the beginning, experts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) voiced concern they may be a threat to public health. However, production continued and since then more than 17,000 children—roughly one child every hour—have been harmed due to exposure, either by ingesting the toxic contents or getting the concentrated detergent in their eyes.

The new study, led by Dr. Gary Smith of the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, takes into account all cases of poisoning reported to the National Poison Data System since 2012. (However, researchers point out that because such reporting is voluntary, there may be many more unreported cases.) Most cases involved ingestion, and symptoms seen most often were vomiting, coughing and choking, along with eye irritation and sluggishness. Thirty children went into comas and 12 suffered seizures.

According to a recent New York Times article, the packets have caused nearly 6,000 emergency room visits and 750 hospitalizations—half of which required intensive care. One of the biggest problems experts have found is that only a very thin layer of dissolvable plastic surrounds the harmful detergent—a layer that can be broken easily when bitten by little mouths. One mother said she simply dropped a packet on the ground, and within seconds it was in her child’s mouth, resulting in intensive care treatment for her son.

Despite warnings from consumer advocacy groups, poison centers and manufacturers to keep the detergent packets out of the reach and sight of children, accidents continue to happen. In response, some manufacturers have made the product packaging less appealing and harder to open. Health officials would also like to see better labeling concerning the extreme health risks involved, as well as increased public education on product safety.

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Environmental toxins surround us every day, contributing to a nationwide increase in illness and chronic disease. Just recently, a new study examined the presence of one toxin in particular—arsenic—in U.S. well water and found that it raises heart health risks significantly.

Although most Americans rely on municipal (or public) water, roughly 15 million households (mainly in rural areas) use well water. This is important because while public water is required by the EPA to adhere to a 10 parts-per-billion safety standard for arsenic to avoid the harmful effects of chronic arsenic exposure, well water is not—and in some cases levels are more than a hundred times higher than the so-called “safe” standard.

For the study, researchers from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health looked at a handful of Native American populations in areas of the Dakotas and southwestern United States whose primary source of water is well water. Their goal was to determine whether or not there was a link between arsenic in the water and a higher incidence of heart disease; as it turns out, there’s a big one.

After analyzing the urine samples of roughly 4,000 individuals, they discovered that the higher the level of arsenic in the urine, the higher the prevalence of atherosclerosis (plaque buildup in the arteries), stroke and heart attack. And in those with chronic arsenic exposure, heart disease rates were often doubled. Previous studies conducted outside the U.S. have had similar results.

Though not a heavy metal, researchers say, arsenic shares similar qualities and may cause damage to the cells and blood vessels around the heart. There is also evidence it may trigger an abnormal inflammation response in the body as well as affect healthy metabolism by disrupting the breakdown of fats, both of which can contribute to harmful plaque buildup.

As scientists continue to examine the link between arsenic exposure from well water and heart health risks, they are also looking into raising awareness in the medical community about the harmful effects of environmental toxins. One possible solution in this case is the use of water filters as well as chelation treatment (which helps remove stored metals from the body’s cells and tissues).

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