From Livestrong to live long

Wristbands known as ‘awareness bracelets’ have been used since mid 2004 to raise awareness about all sorts of charities and causes, from cancer to ending poverty. And now there’s a wristband of a different sort: One which can help determine the potential health risks of exposure to toxins such as pesticides, chemicals and even pharmaceutical products.

Silicon awareness bracelets first became popular in 2004 with the Livestrong yellow band, launched by American cyclist Lance Armstrong to raise awareness of cancer. Seen then, there has been a wave of trendy wristbands from causes such as Make Poverty History to ending cruelty to animals.

But now there’s a new type of awareness bracelet, one that does not represent a specific cause, but rather helps scientists determine the potential disease risks of exposure to a wide range of dangerous substances.

Kim Anderson and her colleagues from Oregon State University have discovered that the commercially available silicon wristbands absorb a wide range of compounds. After volunteers wore the modified wristbands for a period of time, the scientists could measure what the silicon had absorbed. In some cases, up to 49 different substances, including polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), some of which have been linked to cancer, plus compounds from pesticides and consumer products.

“We can screen for over 1,000 chemicals that may accumulate in the wristbands,” says Anderson. “Currently, PAHs, pesticides, flame retardants, PCBs, industrial chemicals and consumer and pharmaceutical products have been quantified in wristbands.”

The scientists believe that the wristbands could be a valuable tool for determining individual exposures and what compounds are safe and which ones come with risk. And they believe that it is much easier and accurate to do this with wristbands that with the current tools at hand, such as heavy backpack samplers, questionnaires or stationary devices, all of which have disadvantages.

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