Photo: American Chemical Society

For some time now, wristbands in various colors have been worn to show the wearer’s embrace of certain causes, like the fight against cancer or the need to end cruelty to animals.

A new wristband could help scientists determine the potential disease risks of exposure to substances like pesticides. The project was reported recently in the American Cancer Society’s (ACS) journal Environmental Science & Technology: "Silicone Wristbands as Personal Passive Samplers"

Thousands of natural and synthetic compounds are in common consumer products and industrial processes, but not all of them have been tested for toxicity.

People breathe, touch and ingest a mix of many substances at low levels every day. While some substances have been linked to human health problems, figuring out the exact relationship between the two is difficult.

Establishing cause and effect definitively requires long-term measurements. Currently, heavy backpack samplers, questionnaires or stationary devices are used to monitor exposure. All have disadvantages.

Researcher Kim Anderson and her colleagues looked around for a better way to more accurately assess an individual person’s exposure to possible toxins and realized that those commercially available wristbands are made of silicone, which absorbs a wide range of compounds.

After volunteers wore (modified) cleaned wristbands for various periods of time, the scientists could measure what the silicone had absorbed: 49 different substances, including polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), some of which have been linked to cancer, plus compounds from pesticides and consumer products.

“We can screen for over 1,000 chemicals that may accumulate in the wristbands,” says Anderson. “Currently, PAHs, pesticides, flame retardants, PCBs, industrial chemicals and consumer and pharmaceutical products have been quantified in wristbands.” They conclude that the bands could be a valuable tool for finally determining individual exposures and what compounds are safe and which ones come with risk.