Some of the most popular brand on the market, including Pampers and Huggies were tested by France’s ANSES Agency in 2018 which led to the discovery of formaldehyde, a carcinogen banned in toys.
As part of the tests, a urine simulant was used and then the nappies were heated to recreate real-life conditions
As well as formaldehyde, endocrine disrupting chemicals that interfere with natural hormones and others known as ‘forever chemicals’ were found in a number of the brands.
Huggies Pull-Ups had formaldehyde at a level “insufficient to be quantified” while Pampers Baby-Dry were found to contain formaldehyde, PCBs [endocrine disruptors] which have been banned since 1987, and hormone disrupters [PAHs] at the same level.
Pampers and Huggies take 36% and 26% shares respectively of the 1,000 nappies that are said to be made every minute in Europe in a €7bn market.
The results have prompted one unnamed Irish mother to say these are deeply concerning findings from some of the most popular brands on the market.
“As a parent I am always mindful of the products I use on my baby’s skin, ensuring their delicate skin comes into contact with as few toxins as possible,” she has been quoted as saying.
“It really shocks me to think dangerous chemicals are contained in the single most used item every day for the first couple of years of their lives.
“I never considered nappies to be harmful before but it certainly has made me look deeper into the brands I’ll buy in the future. I really hope the big name brands look to address this as soon as possible.”
ANSES noted that stakeholders told them “none of these substances are intentionally added to diapers during the manufacturing process, but... are residues or contaminants”. Companies also appear to have acted to reduce chemical contamination since the 2018 report, as only formaldehyde was found in the 2020 samples.
ANSES estimates millions of European children could suffer “potentially very severe, variable and latent diseases affecting their quality of life over their lifetime… such as cancers, suspected endocrine disruption, reprotoxic effects, etc” as a result of toxins in nappies.
The European Chemicals Agency said that while there is a potential risk, a proposed restriction on any nappies containing harmful substances from 2024 “is not justified” as the risk to babies “could not be demonstrated for formaldehyde and PCDD/Fs/DL-PCBs and could not be characterised for PAHs and NDL-PCBs”.
A total of 21 NGOs have now written to the European Commission urging them to ban the chemicals using “precautionary powers”.
European Environmental Bureau deputy manager for chemicals, Dolores Romano, said: “French pressure forced manufacturers to clean up their act, showing that it is perfectly possible. But as soon as the inspectors are gone, the problem could be back. That’s why a law is needed.
“The Commission recently pledged to protect children from chemical hazards. It should take this nappy threat seriously, stop wasting time and eliminate toxic nappies.”
Vice chair of the European Parliament Committee on Environment, Public Health and Food Safety, Anja Hazekamp, added: “It is very worrying that millions of new-borns and children in Europe are already being exposed to dangerous chemicals while they are still in diapers.
“It is even more worrying that despite the evidence for this, the official EU Chemicals Agency chooses to defend the economic interests of the industry, rather than supporting safety-restrictions that would protect the health of these young children.”
European Parliament member and pharmacist, Jutta Paulus, said: “Our youngest are the most vulnerable when it comes to toxic chemicals. It is our duty to protect them from potentially lifelong damage through harmful substances in nappies.”