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Disposable Diaper - Pampering or Poisoning

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  Disposable Diapers - Pampering or Poisoning Babies?

- by Consumers Association of Penang, Malaysia


Imagine leaving chemicals that either cause or lead to cancer, asthma, infertility, bacterial
infections, severe rashes – and your skin 24 hours a day, and every day for the next 2-3
years.

         If you’re like most modern-day parents who dress their newborns in so-called
convenient disposable diapers, this is the torment, and threat, your baby is subjected to.

         Disposable diapers contain toxic chemicals and materials that may be hazardous to a
baby’s health. What is most frightening is that the presence of these chemicals is largely
unknown and ignored.

         Although the long term effects of these chemicals being in close contact with a
baby’s skin for a long time is unknown as no independent studies have been done, the
evidence that is currently available is enough to advise extreme caution with their use.

         From birth, babies are building their immune system and working to grow healthy
organs and bodies to last them a lifetime. Exposure to toxic materials can hinder their
development and cause long-term problems to their health.

         Because their skin is thinner, babies are also more prone to chemical injury as
chemicals are more readily absorbed into their body.

         Disposable diapers are thus an unhealthy choice for a newborn. Here are the hard
facts on the soft-as-a-baby’s-behind disposable diapers that no manufacturer will tell you.




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What’s in a disposable diaper?




Disposable diapers are a hidden constant source of chemical warfare for a baby. This is
because they are made of a large number of artificial materials, many of which are toxic and
may be harsh for baby’s delicate skin. They include the following:

   •   A polyethylene film for the plastic shell of the diaper;

   •   Polyester (for the porous top sheet of the diaper);

   •   Polypropylene (for the diaper liner and the tape that fastens the diaper, or for the
       top sheet);

   •   Pulp fluff from chlorine-treated wood pulp (which produces dioxin, a cancer-causing
       substance as a by-product), and sodium polyacrylate (a toxic super-absorbent gel) –
       for the diaper’s inner layer;

   •   Oil and potentially allergenic resin (as a glue to hold the diaper together);

   •   Hazardous perfumes; and

   •   Other harmful chemicals, like tributyltin (one of the most toxic substances ever
       made).



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    All of these substances can cause extensive harm to a baby – from painful rashes and
asthma to infertility and cancer in later adult life. And babies are exposed to large amounts
of such toxic substances in their diapering years.

    For instance during just 2 ½ years of disposable diaper wear, a baby would have been
exposed to 200kg of wood pulp fluff and 130kg of other materials, mostly plastic (the
amounts of materials needed to make the diapers required by a baby during this period).

    Newborn skin has an underdeveloped outer layer, through which chemicals are more
readily absorbed into the body. Considering that infants and toddlers wear these items,
often wet possibly leaching elements onto their bodies 24hours a day, it is wise to
concerned about these chemical agents.

Here’s a brief look at the dangers associated with some of these materials.




Dioxin – Harmful even in smallest doses

But that’s just what you can see. There are other hidden threats, like dioxin – a cancer-
causing agent.

        Wood pulp fluff is a major component in a disposable diaper- 65% of the diaper is
made up of this fluff. The fluff is finely shredded cellulose derived from wood pulp that has
been bleached with chlorine, the process of which creates dioxin.

        The US Environmental Protection Agency lists dioxin as the most toxic of all cancer-
linked chemicals. Dioxin is so toxic that even in the smallest detectable quantities; it has
been shown to cause birth defects, skin/liver disease, immune system suppression and
genetic damage in lab animals. Developing infants and children are the most vulnerable to
its effects. It has been reported that when bleached, disposable diapers contain 90 parts per
trillion of dioxins.




Sodium Polyacrylate – Potentially deadly gel

        This is the “gel” found in the centre of diapers which “locks wetness away from
baby’s skin”. It is added to diapers in a granular powdered form, which turns into gel when




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wet. Also knows as polymer crystals, sodium polyacrylate is an amazing water absorber – it
can absorb 200-300 times its weight in tap water and hold it in a rubbery gel.


                 Below: Dry polymer
                 crystals.

                 Right: Crystals after
                 water absorption.




       While a paper-filled diaper can hold at most only 275 ml of fluids (a little more than
a cup), a diaper full of this super-absorbent polymer can handle as much as 500 ml (almost
twice that).

But it also does 2 other things:

   •   Facilitates less diaper changing from parents – which leads to rashes because of
       babies’ exposure to the super-absorbent chemicals, bacterial growth and the
       ammonia from accumulated urine in the diaper; and

   •   “pulls” natural moisture (not just urine) from the baby’s skin. This too will encourage
       irritation.

       What’s worse, it may be hazardous to your baby’s health. Here’s why:

    • This substance can stick to a baby’s genitals, causing allergic reactions. It has also
        been found in the urinary tract of babies. In a case reported in Pediatrics Magazine
        in February 1988, one worried mother in the US consulted doctors in a hospital
        there about “clear, tiny compressible beads of gel oozing to be the gel matrix from
        the super-absorbent nappies.

    • It has been reported to cause severe skin, irritations, bleeding from perineum and
        scrotal tissues, fever, vomiting and staph infections in babies.

    • When injected into rats it has caused hemorrhage, cardiovascular failure and death.

    • It is lethal to cats if inhaled.

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    • It was banned from tampons in 1985 because of its link to Toxic Shock Syndrome-
        which can be fatal.      The chemical has also been linked to allergic reactions. The
        same super-absorbent synthetic gel is now used in baby diapers!

    • Has killed children after ingesting as little as 5 grams of it.

    • Causes female organ problems, slows healing             wounds, fatigue and weight loss to
        workers in factories that manufacturer it.

    The disposable diaper industry is a major user of super-absorbent polymers. This is
because super-absorbent polymers have replaced pulp fluff in many disposable diapers.

    On 1998, about 75% of the polymers used worldwide were in diaper products from 5
major diaper companies.

    In 1995, global sales figures for AMCOL (a manufacturer of such polymers in Europe)
show that disposable baby diapers made up 85% of the market demand, adult incontinence
products (10%), and feminine hygiene product (3%).




Tributyltin (TBT) – one of the most toxic substances around

More recently, tributyltin (TBT) was found in disposable diapers in Europe. TBT is ranked by
the World Health Organization as one of the most toxic substances in use in consumer
products in the world today.

       It is a biocide and is used in killing or preventing the growth of bacteria. The smallest
quantities of TBT kill algae and mussels and for that reason it is used in ships’ paints to stop
their growth on hulls.

       The smallest concentrations of TBT can harm our immune system and impair our
hormonal system. It has also been speculated to cause sterility in boys.

       Tests done by Greenpeace in 2000 among others, found nappies to be contaminated
with TBT (in levels of up to 38.4 micrograms per kg). High contamination was detected in
the belt section of the nappies.

       4 samples which were labeled “TBT-free” contained another toxic compound,
dibutyltin (DBT).



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Fragrances & Perfumes – Contain hundreds of chemicals

Ever smelt a clean baby diaper? Most smell fragrant. You think it’s fresh, but the “freshness”
actually comes from the fragrance or perfumes added.

         Fragrances are a major public health hazard. An estimated 3,000 chemicals are used
in the manufacture of fragrances. Of these, synthetic organic chemicals constitute 80%-
90% of the raw materials.

         A single fragrance may contain as few as 10 chemicals or as many as several
hundred. Little is known about the impact fragrances have on human health. Because of
intellectual property rights, ingredients are trade secrets and this makes it difficult to link
claims of adverse reactions to particular chemicals. The secrecy also makes it difficult for
researchers to study health effects of perfumes.

         However, in a study by the US Environmental Protection Agency, which investigated
the effects of 31 perfumed products in indoor air, a total of 150 chemicals were identified.

         Of the main chemicals identified, few have been tested for carcinogenicity although
some     are   known   mutagens,     carcinogens,    and    others   have   toxic    effects   at    high
concentrations.

         Some chemicals found in perfumes (e.g.: butyl phthalate) accumulate in fatty tissue;
they exhibit weak estrogenic action and recent research indicates that these may affect the
male reproductive system or cause breast cancer.

         Besides this, perfumes also contain mixtures of volatile organic compounds, which is
a cause for concern as, individually, these are extremely potent chemicals.

Given the large number of compounds in an individual perfume, the likelihood of these
combinations enhancing carcinogenic, mutagenic or estrogenic activity is high. Perfumes are
also known to cause migraine and asthma in some people.

         Of major concern is the effect of perfumes on child health and the developing central
nervous system. Children are at greater risk of such products because of their smaller size,
higher respiratory rate and thinner skin. Unfortunately, little research has been done on this
issue.




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Glues – Dermatitis Risk

According to a Swedish report, the glues used in diapers are commonly based on ethyl vinyl
acetate and contain resins, softening agents and antioxidants.

        In a Swedish study reported in Contact Dermatitis in 1996, rosin components
(commonly used in glues) were detected in the top layer (which is in close contact with
skin) of all diapers tested.

        Rosin components – mainly abietic acid and dehydroabietic acid- were also found in
the fluff of the diaper.

        The researcher concluded that they pose a “real risk of dermatitis in sensitive
individuals, especially since penetration is enhanced by irritation (a common problem with
disposable diapers)”.

        If the wood pulp used to make disposable diapers is bleached with hydrogen
peroxide (for a bright look), the rosin acids become oxidized and this increases the risk of
potential allergic contact reactions, the researchers say.




Plastic Outer Layer – Worsens Irritation

The plastic in disposable diapers prevents the proper circulation of air. As a result,
ammonia from the bacterial breakdown of urine is unable to escape, causing further
irritation.



                               DANGERS OFFICIALLY KNOWN


The US Consumer Protection Agency reported             receiving the following complaints about
disposable diapers for the period between November 1978 and March 1982:
- Rash (in one case, a mother described it as a “severe red rash”. In another case, a
similar rash was confirmed by a doctor to be “like chemical burn”.)
- Babies pulling apart the diaper and putting pieces in their mouth or nose
- Burns caused by plastic covers melting onto baby’s skin
    •   In 1987, the Sunday Democrat and Chronicle in the US reported that the super-
        absorbent gel used in a new brand of baby diapers caused severe skin irritations,


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       oozing of blood from the perineum and scrotal tissues, fever, vomiting, and staph
       infections in babies.
   •   According to an issue in the Journal of Pediatrics, 54% of 1-month-old babies using
       disposable diapers had rashes; 16% had severe rashes.
   •   A survey of Procter & Gamble’s own studies show that the incidence of diaper rash
       increases from 7.1% to 61% with the increased use of throwaway diapers- great for
       manufacturers of diaper rash medicines!



                               DIAPERS ARE HARMFUL TO BABY

It is estimated that a baby will spend about 25,000 hours in diapers during the first years of
life. If you choose disposable diapers, that’s an extremely long time to expose your baby to
the chemicals present.

       Here’s a brief summary of the safety and health risks your baby faces in the first 2-3
years of his or her life, and in later years, if clothed in disposable diapers.

Death

Suffocation and asphyxiation by the wood pulp stuffing, the plastic shell or the tape tabs
can cause deaths.

Asthma

Diapers can release chemicals, like toluene, xylene, ethyl benzene, styrene and isopropyl
benzene, among others (all added during the manufacturing process). These are toxic to the
respiratory tract and can trigger asthma.

       This was revealed in a 1999 study published in the Archives of the Environmental
Health. In the study, laboratory mice exposed to 6 leading brands of disposable diapers
suffered increased eye, nose, and throat irritation – including bronchoconstriction similar to
that of an asthma attack.

       It was found that even in amid-sized room, the emissions from one diaper were high
enough to produce asthma-like symptoms.

       (Note: Out gassing of chemicals can also happen with other baby products, like baby
mattresses and baby covers)


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        However, cloth diapers did not cause respiratory problems among the lab mice.

Male Infertility

In German research published in the Archives of Disease in Childhood, male babies who
wear plastic rather than cotton diapers has a significant rise in scrotum temperature. (The
scrotum is the external sac of skin that encloses the testes, where the body makes sperm.)

According to the researchers, this may cause infertility problems later in life.

        The study found a 1 C rise in the babies who wore plastic diapers. Urology experts
agree a 1-3 C

        Rise in testis temperature has been shown to harm sperm development and motility
in adults.

Testicular Cancer

According to the scientist who conducted the above study, plastic diaper use may not only
have a negative long-term effect on testicular maturation and spermatogenesis, it may also
facilitate the development of testicular cancer.

Rashes

This is caused by extended exposure to a hot soiled diaper. A disposable diaper hides
evidence than the diaper needs to be changed. A disposable can hold about 7 pounds of
fluid, so babies may be changed less often because they look dry when wet. (Nappy rashes
can result in allergies in later life).

Candida Dermatitis (Thrush)

If the rash does not clear, the skin may break and become infected. A common infection in
the nappy area is Candida dermatitis (or thrush) - a bright red shiny rash with sharply
outlined patches and red creased skin.

Bacterial Infections

Disposable diapers don’t feel wet when they are, so a baby may be left wearing one for long
hours. They also don’t breathe well, thus trapping heat when worn. Heat and moisture
provide an excellent medium for bacterial growth, so the diapers can lead to bacterial
infections.

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Respiratory Distress

Two      such   cases   (of   nasal   aspiration    of   plastic   diaper   coating),   reported   in   the
Otolaryngology Head & Neck Surgery in 1986, prompted doctors to “recommend that
disposable diapers be continuously covered by other clothing to prevent the child’s access to
the plastic”.

         They also warned Otolaryngologists and pediatricians to be aware of this potential
hazard when examining diapered children with “chronic rhino rhea” or “sudden respiratory
distress”.

Allergic Reactions (to chemicals, perfumes, or plastics)

In a 1996 Swedish study in Contact Dermatitis, which analyzed sources of exposure to
rosin* components, all diapers tested were found to contain them. The highest amounts
were found in those from 2 major producers.

         (*Rosin compounds are commonly used as glues in disposable diapers, adult
incontinence products and feminine hygiene products. They may induce dermatitis in
sensitive individuals.)


                                                   Costly

A newborn can use up to 6,000 diapers before he or she is toilet-trained. And that’s a
modest estimate. In reality, babies (especially breastfed babies) my soil their diapers more
often.

         CAP’s analysis shows that it costs a whopping RM3,450- RM4,4470 just to clothe a
baby in disposable diapers for 2 ½ years. Unbelievable? See for yourself.

         An average piece of diaper today costs about 70sen. Industry sources recommend an
average of 5.4 diaper changes a day, while the medical profession says 2-hourly changes
are needed (i.e. a total of 7 changes, 6 for the day and 1 to last throughout the night).

         Assuming that a child will need diapering for 2 ½ years, at 5.4 changes a day,
parents would have to spend about RM3, 450. At 7 changes a day, you spend even more –
about RM4, 450.

         (Note, however, that you might find different totals if the diapering period is longer
or shorter, if diaper changes are more or less frequent, or if you consider other factors.)


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                                             Wasteful

Using disposable diapers is also environmentally costly. Just 6,000 diaper changes alone will
require about 325kg of plastic for the waterproof backing and packaging. The plastic in turn
will need over 2,800 cubic meters of non-renewable gas to make.

        Wrapping your baby in disposable diapers until he or she is toilet-trained the
chopping down of 4-5 trees for fluffy wood pulp.

        It takes 82,000 pounds of plastic and over 250,000 trees a year to manufacture the
disposable diapers for American babies alone.

        And if disposable diapers are washed at home, the amount of water used per week is
about the same amount consumed by an adult flushing the toilet 5 or 6 times daily for a
week.




                                     Cloth Diapers Better




         •   Clothing should keep your baby comfortable, warm and healthy. Disposable
             diapers do not guarantee comfort, can get too warm for safety, and can be
             unhealthy.
         •   The disposable diaper is used only for a few hours at most of each time, yet lasts
             hundreds of years in the landfill site. A cloth diaper can be used up to 200 times
             and will decompose in only about 6 months in a dump.
         •   Cloth diapers can be reused for 2 or even 3 children. And when it has served its
             purpose, it is great for washing cars or bicycles, stuffing cushions or as
             household rags.
         •   Cloth diapers are comfortable and reduce baby’s risk for diaper rash. Cotton, for
             example allows air to freely circulate around the baby’s bottom. This cools the
             skin and permits evaporation to take place, thus preventing diaper rash. Cotton
             is also kinder and more comfortable to baby’s skin that paper or stiff plastic and


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                contains no irritating perfumes or chemicals. Plastic diapers don’t breathe well
                and don’t feel wet, and can increase the risk of diaper rash.
           •    It has been shown that children who wear cloth diapers potty-train much earlier
                and with less difficulty. This has an obvious impact on the child’s self-esteem.
                Children wearing disposables on the other hand, don’t feel the wetness and are
                thus not so easily toilet-trained.
           •    Diapers are garments, not garbage. If your baby’s diapers aren’t cloth, they are
                garbage.
           •    Lastly, diapering is not a quick-change undertaking; it is an act of love.
                Remember this the next time you’re tempted to buy disposable diapers for
                convenience sake.




                                      Public Health Hazards

       •       Fatigue, female-organ problems, slow healing wounds (an indicator of a
               compromised immune system) and weight loss- these are encountered by
               employees in factories manufacturing super-absorbent diapers.

       •       Infectious diseases (from viruses and bacteria in human waste)- there is no safe
               way to dispose of disposable diapers so most people simply toss soiled diapers
               into house-hold, hospital or roadside garbage.

                   In the west for example, the raw sewage is then dumped in landfill sites,
               breeding viruses and bacteria.

                  As many as 100 viruses can survive in soiled diapers for up to 2 weeks,
               including live polio virus excreted by recently-vaccinated babies. Hepatitis virus
               from vaccine residues also thrives in human excrement.

                  These microorganisms pose a threat to the health of sanitation workers. They
               may also be leached out from landfill sites and contaminate groundwater, and
               attract insects that carry and transmit diseases.




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                                      How to Avoid Diaper Rash




 Diaper rash (also known as nappy rash) is a result of prolonged contact of urine with the
 child’s bottom (diaper area), chafing of the skin caused by nappy contact (especially if the
 nappy is too tight or too crisp), or the perfume in some nappies (which may cause
 sensitivity).
          Sometimes a rash can also occur if there is a change made from one brand of
 diaper to another (due perhaps to different composition of chemicals used).
 In a diaper rash, skin under or around a baby’s diaper may become very sore and red,
 with red spots, blister and broken skin.
          Simple diaper rash is a burn-like rash (in areas touched by the diaper), which is
 red, slightly rough and may be scaly. In severe cases, there may be sores and weeping
 areas.
          The chemical irritation of ammonia, produced by stale urine, breaks down the
 protective      barrier   normally   formed   by   the   skin,   causing   redness   and   rawness
 (inflammation). This allows germs of various types to attack.
          In the US, several independent medical studies have documented as astounding
 increase in diaper rash- from 7% in 1955 to 78% in 1991. This parallels the increase in
 usage of disposable diapers.
          That’s hardly surprising when one considers that the disposable diaper industry
 recommends that an average of 5.4 diaper changes is to be made per day (wearing their
 diaper). A number of researchers and pediatricians however, say responsible sanitary care
 dictates changes every 2 hours.
          The rashes are often the result of allergies to chemicals in the diapers, lack of air,
 higher temperatures because plastic retains body heat, and because babies are changed
 less often.
          Diaper rash can also be caused by food allergies, soap or other chemical allergies.
 Rashes can also occur when a child is teething or has been experiencing diarrhea.



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 Diapering Tips
     •   Check your baby often for wetness and change diapers whenever wet.
     •   Wash a newborn baby’s bottom with warm water at every diaper change. Use mild
         soap and rinse baby well. Older babies don’t need such frequent washing. You can
         use the inside front of the diaper to wipe stool off baby’s skin. Wipe girls from front
         to back to avoid infections.
     •   Pat baby’s bottom dry, or allow air-drying before diapering.
     •   Nylon pants worn over cloth diapers will reduce leakage and allow baby’s skin to
         breathe. Plastic pants don’t let in air.
     •   Wash your hands after every diaper change. Whether you use cloth or disposable
         diapers, washing your hands prevents the spread of infection.


 Laundry Tips
 Washing soiled cloth diapers is not as cumbersome or difficult as most people think.
 Here’s what you do:
     •   Just shake poop into the toilet, or spray a strong jet of water from a hose onto the
         diaper to remove the remnants.
     •   Fill a pail ¼ full with cold water and ¼ cup baking soda or vinegar, then soak the
         diaper in a covered pail before washing.         (Note: A pre-wash with vinegar is an
         excellent way to reduce future stains. Vinegar “sets” the fabric and may prevent
         staining altogether.)
     •   If your baby is prone to diaper rash, give the diapers an extra rinse after washing.
     •   You don’t need to bleach as long as you soak soiled diapers. Bleach cuts down the
         life diapers.
     •   A ¾ cup of white vinegar in the final rinse will help reduce diaper rash. Fabric
         softeners are not necessary.
     •   If you want a new cloth diaper to absorb properly so that liquid wont bead up and
         run right out of it, wash and dry it at least 3 times before use. The washing swells
         and fluffs the fabric’s fibers, maximizing absorbency.




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