The disposable hygiene industry is taking steps toward creating a unified response for addressing Substances of Interest (SOIs). They are moving forward with this as consumers, governments, the media, and other organisations ask questions about what is in absorbent products and why. This can include questions about adhesives used in the production of articles for:
How do we know adhesives are safe?
Various governmental agencies have guidelines designed to protect public health. For example, ECHA (European Chemicals Agency) created a set of regulations known as REACh (Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation, and Restriction of Chemicals). Under REACh, chemical manufacturers or importers need to register the chemicals used to produce their polymers. Downstream users, such as disposable hygiene adhesive suppliers and end-product manufacturers that use chemicals, are also required to identify and manage the risks.
In order to manage risks appropriately, it is necessary to clearly define three important terms — presence, exposure, and risk. Three key points to keep in mind when considering SOIs are:
- Presence: Indicates a SOI is detected within a sample.
- Exposure: Indicates a SOI can make contact with the user.
- Risk: Indicates the chance of negative effects caused by the SOI.
Risk assessment explained
Scientists and disposable hygiene manufacturers can use a variety of tactics to determine actual risk in regards to SOIs. These steps must be completed in order and via recognized scientific methods.
First, the substance’s presence and level are determined using accurate and specific testing. There are many ways to determine presence. Some methods are quite harsh and are very far from representing how the product is actually being used by consumers. An example of this is submerging a product into solvents to determine SOI presence. Therefore, alignment on the test method for substance presence is critical.
Once a standard test is chosen, it is necessary to understand the test’s degree of accuracy. This is especially true at the low concentrations often associated with SOIs, which may be given in parts per billion (ppb). To give it context, 2.4 ppb is the concentration of a single sugar cube dissolved in an Olympic-sized swimming pool.
Then, the product, as well as its use and handling, are evaluated to determine whether the user would have exposure to the substance and at what level. Here again, there are many approaches that can be used to determine exposure. Alignment on test methods is critical.
All of this information, along with an understanding of the substance itself, helps to evaluate the level of risk due to the substance.
For example: A substance may be present at trace levels, but it may not make contact with the user’s skin. If so, the risk of exposure would be insignificant.
In another situation: The substance might be able to be in contact with the user’s skin, but the contact time and concentrations could be so small that they may not represent a risk for the user.
Disposable hygiene products, health, and safety
Risk assessment allows governments and regulating bodies, as well as the disposable hygiene industry, to determine what level of presence and exposure constitutes a risk, and under what conditions. This may be done by comparing the results of many health-related studies and other already existing data.
Defining and aligning on appropriate test methods is important for establishing safety guidelines. It is important that consistent methods are used for testing to ensure results are comparable to each other and to standards.
An effort is being made to help consumers understand that presence ≠ exposure and exposure ≠ risk, and to demonstrate the safe use of certain SOIs. This may help the industry guide discussions in a productive and more informed direction.
Learn more about SOIs when you request a copy of our whitepaper about Substances of Interest in Disposable Hygiene.
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