This is a hard subject because the real ingredients in most disposable diapers are not on the packaging and not given my the manufacturing companies. The only disposable diapers I have found that list the ingredients are Seventh Generation. So, I did research on the commonly accepted ingredients, and I tried to find information about any toxicity from reputable sources like the companies who make them. The Diaper Industry Source gave the closest thing I could find to an ingredient list.
Before we delve into the toxic ingredients in disposable diapers, let’s consider the time that a child spends in diapers. If they potty train at 3, they spend 26,280 hours in diapers!
The first commonly accepted ingredient is some sort of superabsorbent polymer which is most commonly sodium polyacrylate. This is what the gel-like beads inside the diapers are. It makes disposable diapers so absorbent. There are many tests out there that show this chemical to be non-toxic and safe. So what’s the controversy about?
The hazards that they list are as follows:
Sodium polyacrylate is a white, granular, odorless polymer that yields a gel-like material with the addition of water. It is insoluble in water and causes extremely slippery conditions when wet. Although not regulated as a hazardous material, the respirable dust is potential respiratory tract irritant. The manufacturer recommends an eight-hour exposure limit of 0.05 mg/m³.
Potential Health Effects: Eyes
Dust may cause burning, drying, itching, and other discomfort, resulting in reddening of the eyes.
Potential Health Effects: Skin
Exposure to the dust, such as in manufacturing, may aggravate existing skin conditions due to drying effect.
Potential Health Effects: Ingestion
Although not a likely route of entry, tests have shown that polyacrylate absorbents are non-toxic if ingested. However, as in any instance of non-food consumption, seek medical attention in the event of any adverse symptoms.
Potential Health Effects: Inhalation
Exposure to respirable dust may cause respiratory tract and lung irritation and may aggravate existing respiratory conditions.
The super absorbent power of disposables not only absorbs urine but also the natural oils from the baby’s skin. You can only imagine that this would easily contribute to more diaper rashes.
Many cloth-diapering websites site a study that says that in 1985 sodium polyacrylate was removed from tampons because it was linked to Toxic Shock Syndrome. I could not verify this. The only sources for this information were other cloth diaper websites. I couldn’t find the original study. Therefore, I’m not going to say this is true or not.I was able to find some information on Web MD about a study by Rosalind Anderson, a physiologist. The article says, “A study published in the September/October issue of the journal Archives of Environmental Health indicates that the emissions given off by some disposable diapers cause “asthma-like conditions” in mice.” She believes that disposable diapers are linked to the rise in asthma in children. I wasn’t able to find the original study, but at least this was not from a cloth-diapering website 🙂The next chemical of concern in disposable diapers is Dioxin. Dioxin is considered by the World Health Organization as a “highly toxic”. Dioxin is in all bleached paper products. This includes coffee filters, paper towels, milk cartons, newspaper and facial tissues, and yes, disposable diapers.
Researchers in Germany have found 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo furan (TCDF), a form of Dioxin, in disposable diapers. I can’t read or understand German, so I wouldn’t even know if I found the original article. A very informative article was published about the German’s findings in Science News.
So, what is so toxic about Dioxin?
According to the WHO, “Short-term exposure of humans to high levels of dioxins may result in skin lesions, such as chloracne and patchy darkening of the skin, and altered liver function. Long-term exposure is linked to impairment of the immune system, the developing nervous system, the endocrine system and reproductive functions.”
The WHO also says, “The developing fetus is most sensitive to dioxin exposure. The newborn, with rapidly developing organ systems, may also be more vulnerable to certain effects.”Tributyl-tin TBT is a chemical found in some disposable diapers. According to Greenpeace, it can harm immune systems and hormones.
Then, there is the fragrance! Most perfumes are made from mostly chemicals, and I have no doubt that artificial smell that disposables give off is not natural.
By using cloth diapers, I can avoid all these toxic chemicals. Granted, some of the chemicals are stuffed away inside the diaper, but many are right on the surface. Some disposables have even been known to give chemical burns.