Researchers at Oregon State University are using silicone wristbands to track chemical exposure.

In a paper entitled “Silicone Wristbands as Personal Passive Samplers” published in Environmental Science and Technology, Kim A. Anderson and colleagues used silicone wristbands to identify exposure to a variety of chemicals.

Capturing and tracking chemical exposure is important to understanding the risk factors for certain diseases and conditions, but it’s difficult to measure.

“People are constantly exposed to all sorts of low level pollutants, from industrial compounds used in disinfectants and upholstery, to fragrances and nicotine in consumer products to pesticides. Research suggests there is a link between some of these chemicals and health problems, but long-term measurements to confirm that are difficult to make,” says Voice of America.

Researchers got the idea to use silicone wristbands after seeing the bracelets at an OSU football game.

While silicone doesn’t absorb water, it does act like a sponge in that it absorbs chemicals. After running tests on the wristbands, which participants wore continuously for 30 days, researchers were able to identify exposure to 49 compounds. It’s possible to screen for more than 1,000.

Backpacks are still most effective, but wristbands are helpful for getting data because they’re easy to wear. The researchers said it could be used in remote regions or for pregnant women.

“Silicone personal samplers present an innovative sampling technology platform producing relevant, quantifiable data,” the report said. “…Studies utilizing this sampler are currently underway, and we hope this easy-to-wear and dynamic application of silicone may become a valuable tool to address challenges of the exposome and mixture toxicity.”

Another group of researchers said they would use the bands soon for a project.

“Julie Herbstman, an epidemiologist at Columbia University, says the backpack monitors are still the gold standard for personal exposure monitoring, in particular because they can track particulate matter, which the silicone bands would miss,” reported Chemical and Engineering News. “But the advantage of a wristband is that it’s so unobtrusive that the wearers “sort of forget about it.” Herbstman is now working with Anderson’s team to test the bands with pregnant women to track their exposure to PAHs and to compare the performance of wristbands with backpack monitors.”