Reports sometimes refer to chemical traces in personal hygiene products intended for use on children, which could include disposable baby diapers and training pants.
It is important to understand what chemical traces mean, and that these may even come from different sources in our daily environment. Everything in life is made up of chemicals, including products that we use every day and the food we eat. Chemicals can be of both natural or synthetic origin, and the origin does not cause or control the safety of any chemical. Trace chemicals are those which may be found at very low levels, and they are not added to provide any function to a finished product. When discussing trace levels, the term parts per million (PPM), parts per billion (PPB), and parts per trillion (PPT) are typically used. One teaspoon of table salt is equivalent to 2,325mg of sodium. As an example, a 1 PPM trace level of sodium would mean that 1/2,325th of a teaspoon would be present in one liter of pure water. 1 PPB would be 1000-times less than that. Trace levels of materials may be identifiable through highly-sensitive test methods, but presence alone does mean that there is a health or safety risk.
Disposable baby diapers have a long history of safe use by hundreds of millions of people around the world. The fact that chemicals may occasionally be identified at trace levels in personal hygiene products such as diapers does not mean that they present a risk to consumers. Members of the Center for Baby and Adult Hygiene Products (BAHP®) – the product manufacturers and their suppliers – keep safety at the very heart of everything they do.
The Components of Baby Diapers Are Selected with Safety in Mind
Some myths exist about how personal hygiene products such as baby diapers are manufactured and what their components are. In fact, these products are made of components which you find in many everyday consumer goods.
The final products and their components may be made of natural or man-made materials (cellulose (wood) pulp, viscose rayon, cotton, super absorbent materials, and polymers such as polyester, polyethylene, polypropylene and various adhesives). These materials are used widely and are not useful just for diapers. Cellulose pulp, typically from wood, is the same material that writing paper or paper towels are from. Polyethylene and polypropylene are common plastics and are even used for food packaging. Polyester is the same material that you will find in fabrics, your clothes, and your sportswear.
Personal hygiene products are produced in several steps in compliance with local and international safety standards and regulations. Raw materials are selected according to strict quality criteria and during manufacture, rigorous quality control systems and good manufacturing practices are in place to ensure the highest hygienic standards are met.
Helpful information about baby diapers for consumers and other important stakeholders can be found on the BAHP® Diaper Answers website, located at: https://www.diaperanswers.org/. The site also contains additional information about how these products are made, the selection and use of raw materials, and provides diagrams highlighting and describing the various parts of a diaper. This content can be found under the ‘How Diapers are Made’ section of the website at: https://www.diaperanswers.org/how-diapers-are-made/.
Manufacturers also carry out post-marketing surveillance of their products, actively respond to consumer comments or questions, and provide follow-up information about safety assessments to regulatory bodies when appropriate. Should you wish to learn more about the reporting processes that the industry has adopted for personal hygiene products such as baby diapers, this information can be found in the ‘Collecting Consumer Data’ section of the website at: https://www.diaperanswers.org/diaper-safety-health/clinical-studies-consumer-data/
Chemical Trace Levels in Products Do Not Pose a Risk to Consumers
Chemicals which are found in very low amounts (some barely detectable, measured in parts per billion or even parts per trillion) are referred to as “residues” and/or “traces”. How traces are identified depends upon what test is used and how sensitive it is.
Today it is possible to detect smaller and smaller amounts of substances by using advanced analysis and detection techniques – even at amounts that are well below the levels that are established as safe for human use/consumption. Many of these tests are not able to test a product directly but need the sample to be tested to be in a liquid solution. These tests can use harsh methods to extract the various elements from a product or even dissolve the tested material, which while effective for measurement, does not represent the real conditions under which people use personal hygiene products every day. These harsh tests often involve the shredding of products, use chemical solvents which we do not have on our skin, or expose parts of the product which would not come into contact with skin during real-life use. A more realistic alternative is to extract elements using a solution of salt in water (saline), which better-reflects real-life conditions, and this approach is also consistent with the relevant exposure during use by consumers.
What are Dioxins?
Dioxins are a group of chemical compounds which are present in the environment, as they are created both by natural (e.g. forest fires) and industrial processes (e.g. combustion engines). This means it is not unusual to find very small traces of dioxins in food, clothes and consumer products.
Traces may be found in personal hygiene products due to the ever-present nature of dioxins as environmental contaminants or could be at trace levels within the cellulose (wood) pulp or cotton due to them being a natural material. The traces are at such a low level that it is lower than exposure from other sources such as food that we consume each day.
Manufacturers of personal hygiene products such as baby diapers do not add dioxins to their products, nor do they use dioxins during the manufacturing process. The fibers and pulps used are processed and treated in a manner which does not create dioxins. Statements suggesting that the modern purification process for the fibers in these baby care products creates dioxins harmful for consumers are untrue.
Purification is a cleansing method for fibers, and also helps improve the absorbency of the products they are used in. Purification methods used today in the personal hygiene industry do not create dioxins, because these methods are either elemental or totally chlorine-free.
What are Herbicides and Pesticides?
Pesticides are a group of materials that are used to control any unwanted living organisms. Herbicides are effective against plants and pesticides are effective against insects. These substances are often used in farming to control organisms that may be harmful or reduce the quality or yield of crops and plants.
Glyphosate, commonly known under one trade name “Roundup™”, is effective at killing a wide variety of plants. It has use in agricultural settings but is also frequently used by homeowners for their own weed control. Glyphosate works by targeting a process required for plant growth and that is absent in humans. Stories have circulated online that traces of pesticides or the herbicide glyphosate can be found in personal hygiene products, including baby diapers. Manufacturers of these baby care products neither add pesticides to their products nor use pesticides during the manufacturing process, and carry out strict controls of the final products and their raw materials.
Rayon, cotton, and other polymers used in baby diapers follow strict legal requirements and voluntary guidelines on consumer product safety.
In addition, the absorbent materials used in personal hygiene products (such as pulp and cotton) are thoroughly evaluated before their use. BAHP member companies work closely with their suppliers to ensure that there are no remaining trace levels of herbicides or pesticides in the pulp and cotton used in diapers that would be harmful to consumers.
What are Halogenated Organic Compounds?
Halogenated organic compounds are a group of chemical compounds that contain at least one halogen (fluorine, chlorine, bromine or iodine) combined with carbon. Compounds differ in how they react and behave depending on which halogen it is and the chemical structure of the compound.
Some media have identified traces of halogenated organic compounds in personal hygiene products such as disposable baby diapers; however, consumers can be confident that halogenated organic compounds are not intentionally added during the manufacture of these baby care products.
Halogens may be detected by tests used to detect either extractable organic halogens (EOX) or absorbable organic halogens (AOX) – subsets of the broader category of halogens. One test for AOX is typically used to measure pollutants in waste water testing as specified by ISO 9562:2004, to indicate the overall level of halogens and to assess the environmental quality of water. The method is therefore not specific and not validated for finished products, and by testing absorbent hygiene products this way, real-life conditions are not reflected and any test results are likely to be misleading. The results from such tests do not indicate that any observed trace levels of halogens pose a safety risk to consumer use of personal hygiene products.
Baby Diapers are Safe
Baby diapers can be safely used with confidence. Additional information on Baby Diapers and the extensive work our industry has done to support them can be found on the website of the Center for Baby and Adult Hygiene Products (BAHP), located here.