What are SAPs, and are they safe in disposable nappies?

What are SAPs?

Disposable nappies and super absorbers
Disposable nappies and super absorbers

SAPs are super absorbent polymers. SAPs absorb and hold a huge amount of liquid, relative to their size. SAPs can hold between 50 and 500 times their own weight, depending on the liquid they’re absorbing. In contrast, cotton and fluff pulp hold only 20 times their own weight.

What this means is that a disposable nappy containing SAPS are able to be thinner, and use less raw materials than a nappy without SAPs. Without SAPs, disposable nappies would have to be much bulkier, meaning more landfill.

Nappies that don’t use SAP don’t have the same ability to keep babies dry, so either babies are left with wet bottoms (which can cause nappy rash) or you have to use a lot more nappies, which isn’t great for the environment, or for your wallet.

Are SAPs safe?

A quick google search on SAPs will leave you wondering about the safety of SAPs. There are plenty of claims about the toxicity of SAPs, including:

1. SAPs are not safe if your baby ingests them

SAPs are actually an FDA approved food additive : http://www.accessdata.fda.gov/scripts/cdrh/cfdocs/cfcfr/CFRSearch.cfm?fr=173.73

It’s considered non toxic by the EPA (US Environmental Protection Agency), Consumer Product Safety Commission, and OSHA.

See the following material safety data sheet on SAPs – it’s considered non toxic. http://www.accepta.com/prod_docs/4363-MSDS-Sodium-polyacrylate-super-absorbant.pdf

This doesn’t mean that we encourage you to allow your baby to chow down on them, by the way!

2. SAPs cause toxic shock syndrome

SAPs were removed from tampons in the 1980s, when the FDA thought that they were the cause of TSS. However, it turned out that SAPs weren’t the problem. Further researched showed that the actual cause of toxic shock syndrome was a build up of bacteria that occurs when tampons are not changed as frequently as necessary.

3. SAPs cause asthma

A study on “Acute respiratory effects of diaper emissions” was widely reported to prove that mice exposed to disposable nappies suffered from respiratory problems.  In actual fact, the co-author of this report, Mr Anderson, said that he was misquoted and that the respiratory problems in mice were actually due to the perfumes added to most disposable nappies.

He further commented that he knew of no problems with SAPs.

His researched pinpointed a list of ingredients in disposable nappies that cause asthma listed here: http://toxipedia.org/display/toxipedia/Diapers.

Note that SAPs are not on this list.

4. SAPs cause irritations

Again, this is not correct. It’s the dyes and perfumes in nappies that cause the allergic reactions, not the SAPs.

Toxipedia points out that dyes used in some disposable nappies cause allergic reactions, and also that dioxins used in nappies cause allergies. This link lists the problematic ingredients found in nappies: http://toxipedia.org/display/toxipedia/Diapers

Bambo Nature nappies do not contain any of these allergenic ingredients. See ingredients list for Bambo Nature here. [link]

See the list of research at the end of this article for studies showing that SAPs are non-irritants.

5. SAPs can kill you if you inject them.

Yes, and so can an air bubble. The issue of children’s safety leads to emotional reactions, but it’s worth applying a little bit of common sense, too.

In short, there are a lot of rumours, but nothing that actually substantiates this scare-mongering.

On the contrary, there have been a number of studies by reputable bodies (including government led consortiums), concluding that SAPs are safe:

Danish EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) found that “No serious adverse effects were observed by oral, dermal or pulmonal administration”, meaning that it’s safe when it comes into contact with the skin. They also found that SAPs are not toxic to aquatic organisms.

The CCRIS (Chemical Carcinogenesis Research Information System) found that SAPs arenot mutagenic in bacterial tests (Ames) and in Eukaryotic tests (tests with mammalian cells).

BIBRA Information Services Ltd (a UK organization) had their team of toxicologists review SAPs and they found that  oral administration of sodium polyacrylate to pregnant rats did not  produce foetotoxicity or teratogenicity (birth defects).

MBDC (global sustainability consulting and product certification firm based in the US) – certified SAPs as green.

Bambo Nature nappies are certified by a number of independent testing laboratories to ensure that they do not include any irritants, including:

  • Danish Asthma Allergy Association
  • Nordic Swan Eco Label
  • proDERM dermatological institute
  • British Retailer Consortium

What about the SAPs in Bambo Nature?

Bambo Nature nappies contain a small amount of two kinds of SAPs, one of which is a starch based bio-superabsorbent which is 100% biodegradable. The second is a high quality, permeable superabsorbent made of acrylic polymer. The manufacturer, Abena, is currently working with suppliers to use only a starch based bio-superabsorbent, while still maintaining their excellent quality standards.

Further reading:

Toxipedia: http://toxipedia.org/display/toxipedia/Diapers

FDA:  http://www.accessdata.fda.gov/scripts/cdrh/cfdocs/cfcfr/CFRSearch.cfm?fr=173.73

Material Safety Data Sheet for SAPs: http://avogadro.chem.iastate.edu/MSDS/Na_polyacrylate.pdf – material safety data sheet

EWG Skindeep database: http://www.ewg.org/skindeep/ingredient.php?ingred06=706159#exposure


References to clinical studies

Alberta, Lauren, Susan M. Sweeney, and Karen Wiss. “Diaper Dye Dermatitis.” Pediatrics 116 (2005): 450-52.

Anderson RC, Anderson JH. “Acute respiratory effects of diaper emissions.” Arch Environ Health. 1999 Sep-Oct;54(5):353-8.

Campbell, R. (1987). Clinical tests with improved disposable diapers. Pediatrician 14(Suppl. 1):34-8.

Campbell, R., Seymour, J., Stone, L. and Milligan, M. (1987). Clinical studies with disposable diapers containing absorbent gelling materials: Evaluation of effects on infant skin condition. J. Am. Acad. 17:978-87.

Davis, James A., James J. Leyden, Gary L. Grove, and William J. Raynor. “Comparison of Disposable Diapers with Fluff Absorbent and Fluff Plus Absorbent Polymers: Effects on Skin Hydration, Skin PH, and Diaper Dermatitis.” Pediatric Dermatology 6.2 (2008): 102-08.

DeVito, Michael J., and Arnold Schecter. “Exposure Assessment to Dioxins from the Use of Tampons and Diapers.” Environmental Health Perspectives 110.1 (2002): 23-28.

H.R.Y. Prasad, Pushplata Srivastava, and Kaushal K. Verma. “Diapers and skin care: Merits and Demerits.” Indian Journal of Pediatrics 73.10 (2004): 907-908.

Odio, M. and Friedlander, S. (2000). Diaper dermatitis and advances in diaper technology. Curr.Opin. Pediatr. 12:342-346.

Seymour, J., Keswick, B., Hanifin, J., Jordan, W. and Milligan, M. (1987). Clinical effects of diaper types on the skin of normal infants and infants with atopic dermatitis (abstract). J.Am. Acad. Dermatol. 17(6):988-97.

Sutton, Marianne B., Michael Weitzman, and Jonathan Howland. “Baby Bottoms and Environmental Conundrums: Disposable Diapers and the Pediatrician.” Pediatrics 1991 85.2 (1991): 386-388.


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