Disposable diapers contain traces of Dioxin, an extremely toxic by-product of the paper-bleaching process. It is a carcinogenic chemical, listed by the EPA as the most toxic of all cancer-linked chemicals. It is banned in most countries, but not the U.S..1
Disposable diapers contain Tributyl-tin (TBT) - a toxic pollutant known to cause hormonal problems in humans and animals.2
Disposable diapers contain sodium polyacrylate, a type of super absorbent polymer (SAP), which becomes a gel-like substance when wet. A similar substance had been used in super-absorbancy tampons until the early 1980s when it was revealed that the material increased the risk of toxic shock syndrome.3
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
.........(a concern is) the use of potentially harmful chemicals to bleach disposable diapers and enhance their superabsorbent capabilities.
Those of us who have recently changed an infant may have noticed a gel-like substance in the diaper that definitely didn’t come from the baby. That gel is a result of the sodium polyacrylate crystals, a superabsorbent polymer (SAP) that is used in disposable diapers for absorbency. Sodium polyacrylate can hold up to 300 times its weight in water. To date, no studies exist as to whether sodium polyacrylate is dangerous to children when absorbed through the skin. However, some experts have pointed to the SAPs in tampons as the possible cause of toxic shock syndrome, so some consumers are wary.
Of greater concern to many is the presence of dioxin, a highly toxic carcinogen and endocrine disruptor, in disposable diapers. Dioxin is a byproduct of the chlorine bleaching process, and the Archives of Disease in Childhood reports that trace amounts of dioxin are present on disposables. Some diaper services use chlorine bleach to whiten their cloth diapers, but conscientious consumers can ask questions to avoid those services.
In addition, two recent studies have pointed to possible links between disposables and asthma, as well as infertility later in life.
A study published in late 1999 by Anderson Laboratories found that lab mice exposed to various brands of disposable diapers experienced asthma-like symptoms, as well as eye, nose, and throat irritation. Cloth diapers did not cause
Dr. Rosalind Anderson, lead author of the report, says chemicals like xylene and ethylbenzene, suspected endocrine, neuro-, and respiratory toxins; styrene, a suspected carcinogen and respiratory toxin; and ispropylene, a suspected neurotoxin; were among those released from the disposable diapers. Anderson notes that human surveys will be needed to determine how important the link between diapers and asthma is to infants and asthmatic parents, but parents should be cautious.
In addition, a 2001 UK study published in the Archives of Disease in Childhood suggests that infant boys who wear disposable diapers could experience impaired fertility as adults. The researchers found that the temperature of the scrotum was almost 2oF higher in boys who wore disposables diapers rather than cloth. This temperature increase, they say, may negatively impact future fertility. Again, other studies will have to back up these findings before a definitive link is established.
In short, there may be reasons to be concerned about the health effects of disposables, though we’re still years away from hard evidence that can tell us once and for all how serious these concerns are.
Although throwing human waste in the garbage is prohibited by law, most parents don’t shake the contents of their baby’s disposable diapers into the toilet—which can spread viruses and contaminate groundwater.