Researchers at Oregon State University (OSU) took common silicone bracelets like the yellow "Livestrong" bands that were once so popular and altered them to be able to sense almost 1,400 different chemical compounds.
Now an entrepreneur has created a Kickstarter to bring these chemical-sensing bracelets to everyone. The company, MyExposome, took OSU's technology and wants more "citizen scientists" to be able to wear the bands and start to collect data to begin to figure out how our chemical exposures affect our health.
How do the bracelets work? After being washed in a solvent the sponge-like silicone bracelets rest on your wrist, absorbing the chemicals that commonly exist in our environment: from fragrances and other personal care products to flame-retardants, pesticides, caffeine, nicotine, chemicals and pet flea treatments.
The wristbands are, OSU says, designed to mimic biologic membranes, like cells, in how they absorb volatile and semi-volatile chemicals.
If construction workers like roofers wear the bands they can show their exposure to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons that are on the Environmental Protection Agency's priority "danger" list. Heavy metals like lead and chromium cannot be detected, however.
The OSU researchers call the bands "Personal Passive Samplers" and used them for a study in New York City measuring chemical exposures of women in their last trimester of pregnancy.
MyExposome CEO Marc Epstein says that after wearing the bracelet for a week and getting his test results, he is changing the way he looks at his personal care products and home cleaning supplies - two big sources of chemical exposures in our daily lives.
"The specific change is that I've started trying to buy fragrance-free products," Epstein said. "Why? Because I now understand that many of those lovely smells in shampoos / soaps / colognes / etc... are not essential-oils but rather they are man-made chemicals. For example my wristband detected both Cashmeran and Galaxolide (neither of which I had ever heard of) and one of which (Galaxolide) is classified as a PBT (Persistent, Bioaccumulative, and Toxic). I'm trying (with some difficulty) to avoid products with fragrances."
Epstein said that thus far MyExposome won't be commenting on the possible danger of the different chemical substances, just reporting on which ones are detected.
"We’ll provide you links to authoritative sources on the internet regarding the specific chemicals we find. But, we are not trying to reach any conclusions or make any recommendations to you regarding what the results mean for you." - MyExposome Kickstarter
The catch, and there is one for the moment, is that getting your own personal analysis of the possibly-worrisome chemicals you might persistently be exposed to is expensive: $995 to wear the band for a week and have MyExposome analyze your chemical load. The company hopes that price will come down over time.
Later this year the wrist bands will be handed out to West African farmers to help them learn how to reduce their exposure to agricultural pesticides and chemicals.
In last June in Oregon, Senator Jeff Merkeley released results of a study OSU did with the bands and the Environmental Defense Fund. Twenty five people wore the MyExposome wrist bands, and a vast majority of the wristbands detected at least one pesticide and one flame retardant that wearers were exposed to.
Here's a sample report that EDF used to show a participant's exposures.