I just came across an article in the current issue of Chemical and Engineering News magazine that caught my interest. A company called MyExposome are making available lightweight silicone wristbands that trap minute amounts of the multitude of chemicals that people are exposed to as they go about their daily activities, both at work and play. According to the article, the silicon polymer matrix “sequesters” and “concentrates” organic compounds with a chemical absorption profile similar to that of human cells. Wearers will return the wristbands to the company, which will extract the chemicals using solvents or chemical desorption mehods, with gas chromatography or mass spectrometers used to identify the chemicals. In the extended study work carried out to date, these have included endocrine-disrupting chemicals, pesticides, PCB’s, frame retarding chemicals and many others. At this time, only qualitative information is obtained, though the company is working on measuring quantitative exposure.
With a current cost of $1000 per person for groups of 20 or more, this is still a relatively expensive proposition for wearers, though the cost will come down with broad scale use. But I think it is a “breakthrough” invention. As my blog readers probably know by now, I am not very much concerned about the general population being at great risk from exposure to many of the chemicals we have been warned about, even thoug Bill Moyers and others have long discussed the many chemicals that are found in our bloodstream in very small quantities. Over the years, many chemicals have been found to have carcinogenic or other toxicilogial properties, though tests have almost inevitably shown that they are harmful only if exposure is in quantities several orders of magnitude greater than what people are exposed to on a day-to-day basis. But what I am thinking is that these wristbands – particularly if able to measure quantitative exposure- could be a very useful tool if they are worn by people who are, due to their work, potentially or actually exposed to very high levels of certain chemicals (think formaldehyde for construction workers and funeral parlor workers, pesticides for farmers). This would, on the one hand, provide the same sort of exposure indicators that workers at nuclear power plants or in radiology labs get from wearing Geiger counters and, on the other hand, provide useful data showing that some chemicals need not necessarily be banned, but that workers needing to be exposed to them should have a record of their exposure. OSHA should follow the results and should then provide guidelines. Where extensive prolonged experience is shown to be harmful, the use of silicone wristbands might become mandatory and the cost borne by the companies and customers involved.
Further, to the extent that pregnant women want to check their exposure to certain chemicals, use of a chemical exposure wristband would provide reassurance to worriers, though their use would probably be deemed unnecessary by their gynecologist. People with compromised immune systems would also benefit from the use of these wristbands.