A report published Wednesday by the French Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health & Safety (ANSES) has warned about “the presence of different hazardous chemicals in disposable diapers that can migrate into the urine and come into prolonged contact with babies’ skin.”
The list of chemicals is as long as it is disturbing. In total, ANSES identified some 60 chemicals, including glyphosate, the active chemical in Monsanto’s infamous herbicide Roundup. Some of the pesticides in the report have been banned in the European Union for over fifteen years, such as lindane, quintozene and hexachlorobenzene.
Many fragrances, such as benzyl alcohol or butylphenyl were found. PCBs, dioxins, volatile organic compounds (naphthalene, styrene, toluene, dichlorobenzenes, etc.) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), which are usually found in cigarette smoke or diesel engines were also discovered.
Since some of these chemicals have demonstrated carcinogenic, mutagenic and reprotoxic (CMR) effects and are considered to be endocrine disruptors, the risks related to their exposure are not limited to the simple skin irritations observed by the vast majority of parents on their babies’ bottoms.
“Exceedances of health thresholds” (calculated on the basis of the reference toxic values) have been demonstrated for several substances under “realistic” conditions of use, i.e. a total of about 4,000 diapers used by a child between 0 and 3 years old. These are fragrance substances (butylphenylmethylpropional or Lilial®, hydroxyisohexyl 3-cyclohexene carboxaldehyde or Lyral®), many PAHs such as benzo (a) pyrene, dioxins, furans and DL-PCBs.
ANSES calls for a more restrictive regulatory framework
ANSES experts concluded that “it is not possible to exclude a health risk related to the wearing of disposable diapers”. The Agency recommends eliminating or minimizing the presence of these substances in disposable diapers, strengthening their control over the market and calls for a more restrictive regulatory framework for these products.
How can these chemicals be found in baby diapers?
Some like fragrances are intentionally added by the manufacturers. Others come from the contamination of raw materials or manufacturing processes: these include PAHs, dioxins, furans, DL-PCBs, pesticides, formaldehyde and volatile organic compounds.
Twenty-three samples of representative diapers on the market in France were tested between 2016 and 2018. And potentially dangerous substances were also found in so-called “ecological” disposable diapers. The “toxicity” of washable diapers, which are used by only 5% of parents in France, has not (yet) been tested by ANSES.