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The Real Dangers of Disposable Nappies

We all know that modern disposable nappies are produced using valuable resources such as petroleum based plastics, and wood pulp, as well as adhesives and a host of chemical products-as parents, it is our duty to carefully evaluate these chemicals and assess their potential consequences.

Taken directly from the Huggies website, they list some of the components that make up their nappies:

‘The inside absorbent padding on Huggies® nappies is made of wood cellulose fibre, a fluffy paper-like material, and a super-absorbent material called polyacrylate. Other materials used include polypropylene, polyester, and polyethylene. These are all synthetic materials designed to enhance the fit of the nappy and the help stop leaks. The elastic strands in all Huggies nappies are made of synthetic rubber to provide a snug but gentle fit for baby. In addition, Huggies nappies feature an all-over breathable outer cover”

This ‘list’ is described in a promotional manner, however these synthetic substances and plastic ingredients are hardly reassuring when you take a closer look….

Polyacrylic Acid- Ever noticed little gel balls on your babies bottom after wearing a disposable nappy? Welcome to Polyacrylic Acid – A Super Absorbent Polymer (SAP) that turns urine into gel and can absorb 100 times its weight in liquid. This is a substance which was banned from use in tampons in 1985 due to its link with Toxic Shock Syndrome. Employees in factories producing Polyacrylate suffer from female organ damage, fatigue and weight loss. No long term studies have been conducted to assess the risks of 24/7 exposure to this compound on a babies vulnerable genitals.

Due to its extreme absorbency, this chemical has been found to draw moisture from the skin, causing severe nappy rash and bleeding of perineal and scrotal tissue. Polyacrylic Acid is also lethal to cats when inhaled.

Dioxin- The most toxic of all cancer-linked chemicals, and a by-product of the paper bleaching process. Certain dioxins have been shown to be a carcinogen and to affect the reproductive and immune systems, cause skin disease, birth defects and liver damage. Several European countries have begun phasing out the bleaching of wood pulp with chlorine due to concerns about dioxin and it potential negative effects on health.

In response to scares over dioxin exposure, several disposable nappy manufacturers have started to product nappies that are unbleached or bleached without chlorine.

TBT (Tribulytin)- This substance was found in Pampers® Ultra Dry nappies in May 2000. TBT is one of the most toxic substances ever produced, it damages the immune system and impairs the hormonal system. There is also speculation of a link with male sterility.

Xylene, Ethylbenzene, Styrene & Isopropyl - These are some of the chemicals which were reported to be released from disposable nappies in a study published in the Archives of Environmental Health (1999). Anderson Laboratories exposed lab mice to various brands of disposable nappies and found them to suffer from asthma like symptoms, including bronchoconstriction and eye, nose and throat irritation as a direct result. Xylene and Ethylbenzene are suspected endocrine, neuro and respiratory toxins; Styrene is a suspected carcinogen and respiratory toxin; Ispropylene is a suspected neurotoxin.

Male Infertility- In 2000, a scientifc study was conducted at Kiel University in Germany which indicated that the widespread use of disposable nappies, which heat the testes above body temperature, is a significant factor in the declining fertility rates in Western European males.

Nappy Rash- Reported instances of nappy rash rose from 7.1% to a whopping 61% with the increased use of disposable nappies according to a review of Proctor and Gambles own studies (The Landbank Consultancy Limited, 1991). How very handy for Nappy Rash Cream manufacturers!

So, we can see that the petroleum based plastic and wood pulp compounds of the disposable nappy are harmful enough to us and our world, but adding chemicals such as Polyacrylic Acid and Dioxin into the mix, as well as allergy causing irritants like fragrances and deodorants, we could potientally have serious problems. There has currently been no where near enough studies assessing the long term risks of the modern disposable nappy- especially because they are ever changing, and always being ‘added to’- so really, is it worth taking that risk?

So what are the alternatives?

  • Eco-Friendly disposable nappies. Bambo and Moltex Nappies are free from all unnecessary chemicals including lotions, dyes, perfumes, phthlates and chlorine
  • Reusable Nappies- Cloth nappies contain none of the chemicals found in disposables
  • Elimination Communication- No nappies at all!


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