French study finds harmful chemicals in disposable diapers

disposable diaper
Public Domain MaxPixel

Banned substances and probable carcinogens are not what any parent wants next to their baby's sensitive skin.

Parents in France are worried that disposable diapers are harming their babies. A new study, just published on Wednesday, revealed a number of harmful substances in diapers, including banned chemicals and the weedkiller glyphosate, which is not illegal but classified by the World Health Organization as a probable carcinogen. Even some brands claiming to be eco-friendly contained potentially dangerous additives.

The study was conducted by Anses, which is the French agency in charge of food, environmental, and occupation health and safety. It examined 23 diaper brands between 2016 and 2018. As reported in the Guardian, it determined that "a number of hazardous chemicals in disposable nappies... could migrate through urine, for example, and enter into prolonged contact with babies' skin."

The researchers found traces of more than 60 chemicals, some of which have been banned in Europe for over 15 years. "Other substances, usually found in cigarette smoke or diesel fumes, were also discovered."

Although the report did not name specific brands, it says they are well-known; and the French Ministry of Health has given diaper manufacturers 15 days to get rid of these chemicals. Pampers has spoken out in its own defence, saying its diapers are safe and "do not contain any of the allergens listed by the European Union." Another manufacturer, Joone, called the report "alarmist."

diaper aisleWikimedia/CC BY 4.0

Health secretary Agnès Buzyn told French parents that there is no immediate health risk to babies wearing disposable diapers, but that the concerns should not be ignored. She also made an interesting comment: "Obviously we should keep on putting our babies in nappies. We’ve been doing it for at least 50 years."

By this, of course, Buzyn meant disposable diapers, because parents have been putting their babies in diapers for far longer than 50 years. The difference is that they used to be cloth. This brings us to a crucial point – that if parents were willing to go back (or forward, shall we say?) to using cloth diapers, they could avoid a lot of the chemical concerns associated with disposables.

The study findings shouldn't come as a shock to anyone who's researched diapers before. Disposable diapers have been linked to allergic skin reactions; overheating baby boys' testicles during prolonged use, which is linked to low sperm count; and creating difficulties with potty-training because kids can't detect as easily when they're wet.

Disposable diapers are one-quarter plastic, which isn't a substance we should be putting against bare skin for prolonged periods of time, especially sensitive baby skin. Nor should we be tossing so much plastic into landfill, not to mention untreated feces.

Choosing cloth can eliminate all of these issues, and although it comes with its own environmental footprint (the fabric used to make the diaper, the water used for washing), it fits much better into the circular lifestyle that we should all be trying to achieve.

In the meantime, parents in France (and likely the rest of the world, where chemical laws are notoriously more lax than in the EU) have every right to be concerned. In the report's words: "There is evidence the safety thresholds for several substances have been crossed... It is not possible to exclude a health risk linked to the wearing of disposable nappies."

Sounds like it's time to look for an alternative.

French study finds harmful chemicals in disposable diapers
Banned substances and probable carcinogens are not what any parent wants next to their baby's sensitive skin.

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