The Harmful Chemicals in Disposable Diapers

Posted: August 1, 2011 in AB4C
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This article was originally posted on on August 1, 2011.

This article was the most popular article on It was the most visited, read, commented on, and shared article on the site. It was also the only article that resulted in a reader calling me. This reader had worked in a disposable diaper factory and had contracted cancer from the chemicals used in manufacturing the diapers.


Sodium Polyacrylate - the absorbent gel in disposable diapers

Your baby will be wearing diapers 24 hours per day for about the first 2 ¾ – 3 years of his life.
The type of diaper you choose will determine what, if any, harmful chemicals your baby is exposed to through skin absorption and breathing. Disposable diapers contain toxic chemicals, drying agents, dyes and fragrances.

This article will cover dioxin and sodium polyacrylate. I believe that the health effects of these two chemicals are enough for any parent in considering their choices of what type of diaper to use on their delicate baby’s bottom.

I have used reputable sources in my research. These sources include government websites and medical and science journals such as: the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency), the American Journal of Epidemiology, the Archives of Environmental Health, the Archives of Disease in Childhood, the FDA (Food and Drug Administration), the Agency for Toxic Substance and Disease Registry, the National Center for Biotechnology Information and material data safety sheets for each chemical.

Dioxins and sodium polyacrylate, two of the chemicals found in disposable diapers, have either been linked to or have caused the following toxic responses: cancer, reproductive & infertility problems, asthma & respiratory distress, hormonal problems, developmental & cognitive problems, suppressed immune system, diabetes, endometriosis, allergic reactions, chemical burns, Chloracne, and Toxic Shock Syndrome (in the use of tampons).

There have also been reports (on sites all over the internet) that diapers may contain many other chemicals. I haven’t taken the time to research and confirm that these chemicals are indeed present in disposable diapers. I will leave the option of researching these chemicals up to you, the reader. If you do investigate whether or not these chemicals are in disposable diapers I would appreciate you sharing your source and findings by leaving a comment below. Some of these chemicals include:

  • Tributyltin – This is toxic to humans and environment, is a persistent organic pollutant, causes irreversible damage to aquatic life, and is linked to obesity in humans (triggers genes that cause the growth of fat cells).
  • Xylene – This is toxic to the respiratory and central nervous systems. Breathing
    high concentrations in an enclosed space can cause irregular heartbeats which can cause death.
  • Ethylbenzene – This chemical is listed as possibly cancer-causing. It is mutagenic (capable of causing mutation). The substance may be toxic to the central nervous system. Repeated or prolonged exposure to the substance can produce target organs damage. It may cause central nervous system depression, is an aspiration hazard if swallowed and can enter the lungs and cause damage. It causes eye, skin, and respiratory tract irritation.
  • Styrene- This substance is cancer-causing and is toxic to the nervous system and upper respiratory tract. Repeated or prolonged exposure to the substance can produce target organs damage. It is very hazardous to the eyes.
  • Propylene – This chemical is an anesthetic at high concentrations. Inhalation may cause central nervous system depression producing dizziness, drowsiness, headache and similar narcotic symptoms. Extremely high concentrations can cause asphyxiation and death by displacing oxygen from the breathing atmosphere.
  • Toluene – The substance may be toxic to blood, kidneys, the nervous system, liver, brain, and central nervous system (CNS). Repeated or prolonged exposure to the substance can produce target organs damage.


Disposable diapers contain traces of Dioxin. Dioxin is an extremely toxic, cancer-causing chemical that is found in disposable diapers as a result (by product) of the chlorine bleaching process.

According to the Environmental Health Perspectives: There is “No Evidence of Dioxin Cancer Threshold” and “the range is consistent with a threshold of zero” – meaning there is no evidence of an acceptable or safe level of exposure to dioxin. Dioxin is cumulative and slow to disintegrate.

Of all the dioxins and furans, 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin (TCDD) is the most toxic.

Dioxins induce a wide spectrum of toxic responses in experimental animals including reproductive (infertility or decreased ability to reproduce), endocrine (changes in hormonal systems), developmental (developmental delays and changes in the development of the fetus), and immunologic toxicities (suppressed immune system) as well as carcinogenicity (the ability or tendency to produce cancer).

Associations between TCDD exposure and non-cancer health effects such as diabetes and developmental (cognitive) delays have also been reported.

Evidence suggests that increased exposures to dioxins are associated with increased incidence of endometriosis in humans.

High doses of dioxins cause a skin disease called Chloracne.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released its Dioxin Reassessment in draft form in 2000, which concluded that dioxin should be classified as a known human carcinogen.

The American Journal of Epidemiology, Volume 154, Issue 5, Pp. 451-458, states that the International Agency for Research on Cancer recently concluded that 2,3,7,8 TCDD is a human carcinogen. This data supports recent conclusions by the US Environmental Protection Agency.

Sodium Polyacrylate

Sodium polyacrylate is a super absorbent polymer (SAP) that can absorb 300 times its weight in tap water. It is the “diaper gel” found in wet diapers. It can absorb 800 times its weight in distilled water because of the lack of minerals. This super absorbent polymer is added to diapers in its granular powder form and turns into a gel-like substance once the diaper becomes wet.

Health Effects:

Workers working with this chemical are supplied with material data safety sheets specifying the first aid for exposure. You can find many sources of these sheets on the internet by doing a search for: “sodium polyacrylate material data safety sheet”. The first aid for each exposure is listed below. This is for ONE EXPOSURE. Babies that wear disposable diapers are exposed to this chemical 24 hours per day for about 3 years. No “first aid” is given to them for each exposure or for their LONG-TERM exposure.


Sodium polyacrylate is a skin irritant. It is a drying agent responsible for absorbing moisture in the diaper. It also absorbs (leaches) oils and moisture from a baby’s skin, causing abrasion irritation and drying of the skin. Exposure to the dust may aggravate existing skin conditions due to the drying effect.
First Aid: Wash the skin with soap and water.


The respirable dust is a potential respiratory tract irritant. This chemical has a recommended eight-hour exposure limit of 0.05 mg/m³. Exposure to respirable dust may cause respiratory tract and lung irritation and may aggravate existing respiratory conditions.
First Aid: Remove to fresh air. If not breathing give artificial respiration. If breathing is difficult give oxygen. Contact a physician.


Dust may cause burning, drying, itching, and other discomfort, resulting in reddening of the eyes.
First Aid: Flush thoroughly with large amounts of water for at least fifteen minutes. If irritation persists consult a physician.

A Study by Anderson Laboratories, Inc.

National Center for Biotechnology Information – US National Library of Medicine – National Institutes of Health – a Publication

A study published in 1999 by Anderson Laboratories, Inc. found that lab mice that were exposed to various brands of disposable diapers experienced asthma-like symptoms, as well as eye, nose and throat irritation. The results demonstrated that some types of disposable diapers emit chemicals that are toxic to the respiratory tract and that disposable diapers should be considered as one of the factors that might cause or exacerbate asthmatic conditions. Exposure to cloth diapers did not cause these symptoms.

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  1. […] to use cloth diapers for the benefits to their baby’s health. Disposable diapers contain many harmful chemicals and are linked to a significant amount of health […]

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