Chemicals in Disposable Diapers – What does that mean for infant health?

Chemicals in a Disposable Diaper

Synopsis: A French government agency, ANSES, has concluded there are trace amounts of dangerous chemicals in a survey of 23 diapers brands from the French Market from 2016 – 2018. Some of these chemicals exceed thresholds for infant health in realistic conditions, and others don’t like the trace amounts of glyphosate.

Link to the full study – it’s in French, so this post is gleaming from English translated resources and news sources.

The Guardian: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/jan/23/france-traces-of-dangerous-chemicals-found-in-disposable-nappies

Chemical Watch: https://chemicalwatch.com/73693/french-agency-finds-unsafe-levels-of-chemicals-in-babies-nappies

 

Why should we care? Because this is the first disposable diaper study to claim there are dangerous chemicals lurking in disposable diaper products. This study is from France, but we can learn and demand questions for similiar studies on North American diapers done by third parties without a vested interested in the industry.

Why it might not be relevant? Because there have been other disposable diaper studies that have come to different conclusions. A study by the Swiss Federal Office, South Korea, and another out of Belgium came to slightly different results. South Korea suggested they were present in low levels that do not impact health, while the Swiss Study said “do not contain any substances or chemicals that may pose a health risk to infants”

We should care because this is opening up the conversation that we don’t know anything about our disposable diaper products. If we look at the United States marketplace, disposable diaper regulations are very lax. Unlike cloth diapers, disposable diapers do not have to undergo safety and compliance testing, or even list their ingredients on the package. The biggest take away from this study is really emphasizing that as consumers of disposable diapers we do not know anything about the products.

Disposable Diaper Brands, and EDANA, the international association for non wovens, feeds us claims that disposable diapers are safe, but they don’t prove it. For example, EDANA claims towards the health and safety of disposable diapers is based on the reduction of diaper rashes in infants. However, as we know in the cloth diaper community, advances in washing and managing cloth diapers have drastically evolved in the last 100 years, and many cloth diaper parents never experience rashes like their disposable diaper counterparts. Besides these comments, there is very little evidence about the safety of disposable diapers.

What is in a disposable diaper?

According to EDANA in 2006 disposable diapers were 35% Fluff Pulp, 33% superabsorber, 17% non woven material, 6% PE Film, 4% adhesives, 4% other, and 1% elastic.

Some disposable diaper companies do indicate what is in their diapers but at the end of the day, this information is deemed a proprietary secret. Many diaper brands lump ingredients under fragrance and that’s where a lot of chemical products hide.

Chemicals in a Disposable Diaper

What did chemicals did they find in disposable diapers? Because the original study is in French I am relying on other sources to understand what is being suggested.

  • Fragrances: butylphenyl methylpropional – known for its strong floral scent this is found in a variety of products including laundry powders, there seems to be a general concern about this products potential health impacts.
  • Fragrances: hydroxyisohexyl 3-cyclohexene carboxaldehyde – this fragrance is known allergen for people causing dermatitis in a small percentage of the population.
  • polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) – a PAH is a substance left over after the incomplete burning of coal, oil, gas, garbage or other organic substances. The CDC released a report suggesting that some PAHs can be harmful to your health and in animals including difficulting reproducing in mice and other immune struggles.
  • PCB – 126: PCB’s are a commercially produced chemical that was used in coolants and lubricants. Manufacture of PCB’s was stopped in 1977 because they build up in the environment and impact human health. In rats exposure to PCB 126 impacted cardiovascular risks in the female population.
  • DL PCB – dioxin-like PCB
  • Dioxin – This is a dirty dozen chemical that is persistent organic pollutant – this is a byproduct of bleaching paper pulp and in the manufacture of some herbicides and why many people choose chlorine free diapers – dioxin and DL PCB has a long term reproductive issues in children who have had exposure, and perhaps diabetes. This is because dioxins have a half-life of 7 – 11 years after being stored in the fat of our bodies.
  • Furans – Similar chemical structure to dioxin and again comes from pulp production. Usually lumped into the topic of dioxin and includes the potential for skin disorders, liver problems, immune system problems, and maybe cancers.

It appears that many of these chemicals come from living in a crappy environmental situation. Some of my research into this topic suggest these products build up in areas and transmit through the products grown there again and again despite not using these products.

And then there was the big name glyphosate which was in 10 out of 12 brands tested. This is a weedkiller that was introduced by Monsanto in 1974. Today it is sold by a variety of different manufacturers around the world and is one of the most popular weedkillers. Many countries and regions have banned it and are in the process of actively banning it. There was a case in the USA where Monsanto was considered negligent in labeling the product’s risks after a groundskeeper got sick. However, there is current disagreement about it’s overall cancer causing risk but research is suggesting it forms non-Hodgkins Lymphoma.

What is in a cloth diaper?

That really depends on the product and the types of materials used. In general, we are looking at some sort of textile from microfibre to cotton to bamboo to hemp. There is also elastics, PUL material and snaps. In the United States CPSC requires testing of the snaps for lead and phthalates. If the PUL is exposed then it to must be tested. There are also other requirements that imported and locally made products must go through. This is the basics, but there are further issues at play in this conversation.

How you wash your cloth diapers and the detergent and softeners they are exposed to also impact what’s in your diaper, as well as the original materials you choose to use. Choices in organic or non-organic, and the processing that happens to bamboo, hemp, microfibre and even PUL impact this stream.

As consumers of cloth diapers, we have the power to make choices to reduce the exposure to unknowns. We can purchase diapers with compliance certifications. We can purchase diapers made with high-quality products. We can repurpose products we know to be safe. We can encourage cloth diaper brands and retailers to talk openly and proudly about their processes.

We also have the power to make changes in our home and to choose washing strategies that leave less of an impact. Many will give eco-friendly detergents a band name, as well as others, but I’m just going to leave that space open for you to explore and learn about because it’s well beyond my scope at this time. Just think if you want to use a less powerful detergent because you might want to consider something that is easier to launder like organic cotton flats or bamboo preflats. These products typically wash up easier because they are only 1-3 layers of material versus 4-10 layers.

What is my take of the French Study?

For me, this just reinforces the side conversations in the mom community. If you’re watching and pay attention, you know that babies are constantly struggling with diaper rashes. The rash cream disposable diaper parents have to use is insane.

You know what’s scarier than knowing? Not knowing. – My initial reaction to the disposable diaper industry. 

Paying witness to the generation of men and women struggling with infertility and the commonality of dioxin and furan in the pulp processing it’s an easy connection. I doubt any of these things will ever be proven, but this just reinforces my awareness of what I decide to use or not use. This is one thing that is important to me because of so many other facets, that this is a topic of conversation I will continue to have.

For every parent out there who is concerned about the products in their shampoo or their hand soap, we should also pause and think about our disposable sanitary products. They also deserve consideration, and they deserve public outcry for change.

If you don’t say anything then nothing changes. I don’t care about changing the disposable diaper industry, but I do care about redefining the value of cloth diapering.

Do you think that we will continue to see this conversation, or will big name cloth diaper brands with impressive marketing budgets squash the entire conversation?

There is expected to be other European studies coming out in the weeks to come and we will see if it offers additional information or not about this topic. Who knows, maybe this study was just an outlier in the entire conversation; regardless, we deserve the right to know what goes into a disposable diaper and how the environment is impacted by the manufacture of these products.

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