Wristbands as Personal Pollution Trackers

Silicone bracelets have been a staple fashion accessory since Lance Armstrong started sporting one in 2004. Throughout the years it has been used to express one’s individuality, promote awareness, or just liven up a person’s otherwise boring wardrobe.

However, it turns out that rubber bracelets are more than just a means to express yourself or your support for a cause. Studies have shown that wristbands can now determine a person’s exposure to dangerous chemicals in the environment.

Breakthrough with Bracelets

A 2014 study from the Oregon State University showed that a rubber bracelet can mimic human cells in its ability to absorb harmful pollutants. They distributed wristbands to volunteers and had them wear it for a week. Study participants were required to keep the bracelets on for most of their daily activities including jogging, working on household chores or simply playing with their pet dogs. After a week, the participants returned their bracelets and the researchers used gas chromatography in identifying the different chemicals. The Oregon team was able to extract pesticide, flame retardants, industrial and consumer chemicals and traces of prescription medication from the bracelets. The team’s study proved valuable, especially in their attempt to find a direct correlation between environmental toxins and health problems such as obesity and decreased cognitive ability in children. Because of their findings, parents and educational institutions can now make significant changes that will help reduce their children’s exposure to dangerous chemicals.

Measuring Up in the Real World

The team’s discovery was also put to practical use. The researchers collaborated with a number of Oregon roofers as study participants. The volunteers were divided into two: those with wristbands at the job site, and those that wore theirs at a training location. After analyzing the samples, the researchers found out that the roofers who worked at the training location were exposed to a higher level of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). The Oregon team relayed the information to the roofers union, who immediately responded by making changes in how the workers set up tar kettles (a source of PAHs) and by providing proper ventilation for the training site.  A group of pregnant women in New York City also volunteered as study participants, in order to determine how the chemical exposure of pregnant women in their last trimester affect their children after birth. West African farmers have also joined the Oregon study, in order to aid them in reducing their exposure to agricultural chemicals.

Futuristic Wristband at Your Fingertips?

These wristbands are considered an ideal toxin tracker because they are inexpensive, lightweight, easy to use, and fits well with a person’s everyday wardrobe. At present, the pollution-detecting wristbands are being sold by the Environmental Defense Fund through the project MyExposome. The wristbands are only offered to groups of 20 people or more, at $1000 per person. The company is working on having the price come down over time.


While these modern wristbands provide valuable information about the toxins in the environment, the data can only do so much. Meanwhile, it might also take a while before products like these become viable enough to mass produce. In the meantime, you can still sport your simple awareness bracelets and stay on top of the amount of pollution you encounter each day.


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