Superfund Research Program

June 2019

Silicone Wristbands

Silicone wristbands, a popular fashion accessory, can double as a scientific tool for studying chemical exposures.
(Photo courtesy of Kim Anderson)

In a new study, funded in part by the Oregon State University Superfund Research Program (SRP) Center, researchers identified common chemical exposure trends in 14 communities across three continents. The researchers, led by Kim Anderson, Ph.D., used silicone wristbands that capture personal exposures to investigate differences and trends in chemical mixtures in North America, South America, and Africa.

The silicone wristbands, developed with SRP and other NIEHS funding, are considered a passive sampling method because they absorb chemicals from the air, water, and even the skin, mimicking the body’s absorption process. Lab analysis of the wristbands can reveal the chemicals to which participants were exposed. The study compared chemical exposure patterns across different geographic and demographic groups.

In wristbands from 262 participants, researchers looked for 1,530 chemicals, including 432 endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs). EDCs can affect the endocrine, or hormone, system in humans. They previously have been linked to cancer, birth defects, and other developmental disorders.

The researchers uncovered personal chemical exposure trends, including detection of 191 unique chemicals. No two wristbands, even those coming from the same community, had the same chemical profile. Among all of the continents, there were 36 detected chemicals in common, which included some phthalates and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. The researchers detected 13 potential EDCs in over 50% of all wristbands.

Exposure patterns established by the silicone wristband screening could help toxicologists prioritize certain chemical mixtures to study further in specific regions. For example, North American children had the highest exposure levels to flame retardant chemicals out of all the geographic and demographic groups.

According to the authors, gathering such personal exposure data with wristbands can be valuable for informing how chemical mixtures, especially EDCs, influence health.