With more than 80,000 chemicals currently in use today and a thousand more introduced every year, there’s no doubt we are living in a toxic world—and scientists at Oregon State University are on a mission to find out just how toxic.
You know those nifty little silicone wristbands everyone’s sporting? In a recent study funded by the National Institute of Environmental Sciences, the OSU Food Safety and Environmental Stewardship Program, and the National Institutes of Health, researchers turned the popular fashion accessory into a wearable toxin detector—one that creates an eye-opening readout of the harmful chemicals and pollutants we encounter on a daily basis. How’d they do it?
It turns out the absorbent silicone material is perfect for soaking up the chemicals we frequently come into contact with, everything from caffeine and nicotine to harmful pesticides and the hidden chemicals in our personal care products. With a little modification, OSU scientists were able to turn the bands into a helpful tool for monitoring toxic exposure and the corresponding health risks. According to the university, wearers can be screened for 1,200 different chemicals.
“The wristbands show us the broad range of chemicals we encounter but often don’t know about and may be harming us,” said OSU College of Agricultural Sciences Professor Kim Anderson in a recent press release. “Eventually, these bracelets may help us link possible health effects to chemicals in our environment.”
Anderson and her team followed 30 volunteers for an entire month. During that time, the lightweight bands soaked up a broad range of chemical compounds, including several that appear on the Environmental Protection Agency’s priority list. So what’s their next step? Right now they are using the bracelets to determine the effects of chemical exposure on pregnant women in a study in New York City, and later this year they will use them to measure the effects of agricultural chemicals on West African farmers.