Nearly as common as the tribal tattoo, silicone wristbands allow wearers to promote — or oppose — a variety of social and political causes. Pink is for breast cancer, red is for AIDS, and yellow is worn to support the troops. Now, researchers at Oregon State University say those ubiquitous wristbands may also tell us something about the environment and our exposure to pesticides and other toxins.

Environmental scientist Kim Anderson says many of the thousands of chemical compounds used in the industry and found in consumer products have not yet been tested for toxicity. Moreover, scientists cannot yet predict links between many of these substances and human health ailments, though some research suggests unseen environmental hazards.

Given that rubber absorbs many of these substances, Anderson and her colleagues distributed silicone wristbands to volunteers who agreed to wear them for varying lengths of time. They analyzed 49 substances absorbed by the silicone, including possibly carcinogenic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH), pesticides, flame retardants, industrial and consumer chemicals, as well as traces of prescription medication.

"We can screen for over 1,000 chemicals that may accumulate in the wristbands," Anderson said in a statement. "Silicone personal samplers present an innovative sampling technology platform producing relevant, quantifiable data.”

In a paper published last month in an environmental journal, Anderson and her colleagues noted the novelty of a wearable environmental monitoring device. Present “active-sampling” approaches to personal body monitoring are limited by battery life and problems adapting the data to the individual. Moreover, such techniques often involve impractical preparation while detecting few chemical compounds.

“In this [study], we present a novel application for measuring bioavailable exposure with silicone wristbands as personal passive samplers,” Anderson said.

The researchers found that silicone wristbands used on a wide scale may help to improve detection of everyday exposure to pesticides and other toxins.

Source: O’Connell, Steven G., Kincl, Laurel D., Anderson, Kim A. Silicone Wristbands As Personal Passive Samplers. Environmental Science & Technology. 2014.