Photo of wristbands worn in study by Environmental Science & Technology
Candy colored silicone bracelets are the hot accessory of choice for kids who want to show support for their favorite causes. There are wristbands for cancer research, child abuse prevention, various disease awareness campaigns and much more, but now one of these seemingly simple silicone wristbands can show you how many chemicals you’re being exposed to on a daily basis. This new wave of silicone bracelets kicked off when researchers at Oregon State University outfitted volunteers with slightly modified silicone bracelets for 30 days and then tested the wristbands for 1,200 chemical substances. Amazingly, the researchers were able to use the worn wristbands to detect several dozen compounds including flame retardants, indoor pesticides such as pet flea medications, caffeine, nicotine and various chemicals used in cosmetics and fragrances. Ted Schettler, science director at the Science and Environmental Health Network, a nonprofit environmental health advocacy organization noted, “This study offers some real possibilities to address the weak link in epidemiological studies – which is the exposure science. The bracelets “can identify both chemicals and mixtures, and this could easily be applied to larger groups to see which compounds are showing up most commonly.”
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Ironically, before outfitting the volunteers, the researchers had to remove the various chemicals that are introduced into silicone during the manufacturing process, but that’s just a small setback in the research process. Considering how humans in general are chock-full of chemicals nowadays, this idea has some real merit and huge possibilities for health researchers. It’s a super non-evasive and ultra inexpensive way to see what the chemical body burden of someone is and it won’t take much to talk people into wearing the wristbands. Emily Marquez, a staff scientist with the advocacy group Pesticide Action Network, said the potential to use a wristband to quantify exposure to tens of thousands of compounds is exciting, while Schettler points out that the wristbands could help agencies, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), narrow their focus when they test people for contaminants. Kim Anderson, a professor, chemist and senior author of the study published in Environmental Science & Technology says that these bracelets, “Are a big step up from stationary air monitors, which only capture a snapshot in time and may not be near people. Measuring individuals’ exposures usually means monitors worn in backpacks, which are difficult to use and expensive.” As with all wristband fads, this one actually caught on in a big way, with the researchers sporting them around town, “There was definitely some caffeine on mine,” Anderson said. If a chemical capturing bracelet sounds great to you, you’re gonna have to hold back your excitement for a while. As of now, these bracelets still need to undergo a laboratory analysis to see which chemicals are showing up reliably and regularly.