Chemicals In Diapers Cited As Possible Asthma Trigger
- Penny Stern, MD
- October 6, 1999
NEW YORK, Oct 06 (Reuters Health) -- Childhood respiratory problems, including asthma, may be linked to inhaling the mixture of chemicals emitted from disposable diapers, researchers write in the September/October issue of Archives of Environmental Health.
Lead author Dr. Rosalind C. Anderson, of Anderson Laboratories in West Hartford, Vermont, told Reuters Health that chemical emissions of some disposable diapers have immediate health effects in animals breathing the diluted chemical mixtures. "Upon analysis, the diaper emissions were found to include several chemicals with documented respiratory toxicity," according to the paper.
"Mice were used in this study because of their general physiological and biochemical similarity to humans", Anderson explained, "adding that both humans and mice develop bronchoconstriction as a response to certain (odors and substances)". Bronchoconstriction refers to a narrowing of air passages in the lungs that is associated with respiratory difficulties.
"Upon exposing the mice to various brands of disposable diapers, a decrease (was observed) in the ability of (the) animals to move air during exhalation", Anderson said. Noting that this finding accurately describes asthma or an asthma-like reaction, she added "that if mice and humans respond in a similar manner to diaper emissions, disposable diapers could be important with respect to the worldwide asthma epidemic."
In contrast to the results obtained with disposables, new cloth diapers produced very little respiratory effects and appeared to be the least toxic choice for a consumer, the researchers write.
"Though the disposable effect was noted even when the emissions of a single diaper are diluted in the air of a small room," Anderson said, she cautions that it is too early to indict diaper chemicals. "Whether the diaper chemicals initiate clinical disease, simply trigger an asthma-like response or are not implicated (at all) in human disease will not be known until after a vast amount of human data has been accumulated," she commented.
Therefore, Anderson believes that formal epidemiological investigations must be extended to infant products in order to evaluate these items' possible role in triggering or aggravating asthmatic conditions. She and her co-author, Dr. Julius Anderson, have (previously) published similar findings associated with other products used in infants' environments. "A number of these manufactured materials -- air fresheners, mattress covers, fabric softeners -- have many rapid-onset toxic effects in common," she pointed out.
In Anderson's view, the current epidemic in childhood asthma cannot be explained solely on the basis of what she termed, "the usual suspects: dust mites, cockroaches, maternal smoking". Maybe child-care products (such as) plastic diapers... plastic baby bottles, and plastic toys are important factors (through the release of) chemicals with toxic effects."
Until such time as this asthma-inducing effect can be confirmed in humans, Anderson reminds parents and healthcare professionals that precaution costs nothing. When you are dealing with a toxic chemical or chemicals, avoidance is the only proper action. "She suggests that (parents) and doctors... believe themselves if they think a product is harming the breathing of the mother or the baby."
SOURCE: Archives of Environmental Medicine September/October 1999.