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How safe is the stuff in diapers?

July 3, 2010

This question has gained a fair amount of attention recently when a group of moms in the United States launched a law suit against Proctor and Gamble, the makers of pampers.  Specifically the group has charged Pampers with using Day-Max technology which they claim causes moderate to severe rashes, even chemical-like burns to babies’ bottoms.  The disposable diaper industry is largely self-regulated in terms of the safety of product ingredients.  It is up to the individual company to make sure that there is nothing unsafe in their product.  However what is unsafe is largely debatable.   Diapers companies by far and large use ingredients which are known carcinogens – but the safety rational is that those questionable ingredients are in such low levels that they won’t affect a baby or that the ingredients are not absorbed by the skin and are therefore safe.

One result of this lawsuit is that I hope it will gather enough support and attention, that as consumers, parents will demand more and more alternatives that are healthier for their babies, and our environment… whether those alternatives are cloth diapers or a more green, more compost-friendly and chemical free disposable diaper.

If this has peeked your curiosity and you wish to learn more about the law suit and the safety regulations that diapers companies must currently comply with, then you will enjoy reading this article recently published by the Canadian CBC.

http://www.cbc.ca/health/story/2010/05/28/f-disposable-diapers.html

Disposable diapers have only been around for about 50 years and there is still a lot we don’t know about the effects of using them.

One study found a link between cloth diaper use and male infertility.

In May 2000, the Archives of Disease in Childhood published research showing that scrotal temperature is increased in boys wearing disposable diapers, and that prolonged use of disposable diapers will blunt or completely abolish the physiological testicular cooling mechanism important for normal spermatogenesis. 18

18C-J Partsch, M Aukamp, W G Sippell Scrotal temperature is increased in disposable plastic lined nappies. Division of Paediatric Endocrinology, Department of Paediatrics, Christian-Albrechts – University of Kiel, Schwanenweg 20, D-24105 Kiel, Germany. Arch Dis Child 2000;83:364- 368.
Go to http://adc.bmjjourn als.com/ and search by the title of the study.

However one small study does not “prove” that they cause male infertility. It doesn’t mean that they are safe either. There are any number of things that have not been proven to be either safe or harmful. The facts are that disposable diapers contain chemicals, some of which have been proven to be harmful. We cannot predict whether the amount of chemicals present in quantities that will cause harm to babies, or what sort of harm, based on the limited information available from the companies that make them or the studies that have been done. This is not the same as claiming that they are safe.

To many, it is a “why take the risk” thing. There are many blogs and websites and some news reports about how bad disposable are for babies. Equally, there are many blogs, websites and some news reports about how disposables were not risky at all.  However I have yet to find blogs, websites or new reports telling me that cloth is unsafe. Between the chemicals, the environmental factor and the fact that they save families hundreds of dollars, many families opt for cloth.  However cloth diapers are more work. Some dedicated cloth diaperers will tell you that it’s not that much more work, which is true… but it’s still a higher level of activity and commitment than disposable diapers.  I’m not sure that everyone would the switch.

What I really would love to see is something along the lines of what happened when the Canadian government decreed that BPA was harmful.  Immediately companies responded.  They produced plastic which were BPA free and the same cost as the regular plastic bottles and cups.  Consumers when presented with an alternative which was the same price and healthier for their kids opted for the BPA free plastic.

What would happen if the known harmful chemicals in diapers became illegal in baby products?  I think companies would produce healthier, greener disposable diapers.  And that my friends would be better for everyone.

Marie, who has been cloth diapering for about 5 years, and disposable diapering for about a year… and really looking forward to the day that she won’t be diapering at all anymore.  🙂

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