Harmful Ingredients in Period Products by Women’s Voices for the Earth (WVE)
NEW YORK – National women’s health nonprofit, Women’s Voices for the Earth (WVE), has released independent product-testing results that reveal undisclosed toxic chemicals in tampons.
In March, WVE commissioned STAT Analysis to analyze volatile and semi-volatile organic compounds in a variety of different tampons purchased in New York stores, including organic, mainstream and dollar store brands.
The results of the testing detected carbon disulfide, a known reproductive toxin, in all four brands of tampons that contain rayon. Carbon disulfide is a chemical that is predominantly used in the manufacture of rayon; it was not detected in the all-cotton tampons that were tested.
Additionally, some brands of tampons contained other volatile organic compounds including reproductive toxins, toluene and xylene, as well as carcinogen, methylene chloride. (Methylene chloride, commonly found in paint strippers, has made headlines recently for its link to over 50 deaths since 1980). None of these chemicals are disclosed by the manufacturers. Instead, where disclosure exists, only basic components of tampons are listed, often using vague language such as ‘may contain:..’ and ‘rayon and/or cotton”.
“This testing is just one snapshot that shows us that there is more to these products than is currently being disclosed,” said Alexandra Scranton, WVE’s Director of Science and Research. “Whether the chemicals we detected are a result of contamination from rayon manufacturing, from added fragrance ingredients, or other unknown additives, we need to know to be able to avoid these chemicals of concern.”
Tampons are used by up to 85 percent of menstruating women in the U.S. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) offers relatively little regulation of menstrual products. Tampons, pads and menstrual cups are considered “medical devices” by the FDA and are not subject to ingredient labeling. As a result, a full list of ingredients used in these products are rarely disclosed publicly.
“It is concerning that we don’t have a clear picture of the chemicals used in tampons and other feminine hygiene products given that women are using these products regularly throughout their child-bearing years,” said Dr. Ami Zota, Assistant Professor of Environmental and Occupational Health at The George Washington University Milken School of Public Health. “These results underscore the need for more comprehensive testing to better understand the potential health risks that may arise from long-term product use.”
Previous testing of tampons and menstrual pads have found pesticide residue, parabens and phthalates linked to hormone disruption, antibacterial chemicals like triclosan, and various carcinogens including styrene and chloroform.
“These new results add to the growing body of evidence reaffirming that we need to know more, not less, about the ingredients in period products,” said Scranton. “Millions use menstrual products on a monthly basis. It is unacceptable that there are so many unknowns about the ingredients, safety, and health impacts of products that come into contact with one of the most sensitive and absorbent parts of the body.”
Right to Know
A new bill introduced by Assembly member Linda B. Rosenthal (D/WF-Manhattan) requires disclosure of ingredients in menstrual products, including tampons, pads, menstrual cups and period underwear. If the bill passes, it would be the first such law to take effect in the nation.
“We have come to expect disclosure of ingredients in foods, cosmetics, and drugs because of the direct interaction of these products with our bodies. We should expect, and deserve, no less from menstrual products," said Jamie McConnell, Director of Programs and Policy at WVE. “If passed, A.521A will finally give New Yorkers vital information they need about their period products.”
“Women and girls have every right to know what they put in and on their bodies. And yet, there is currently no requirement for ingredient labeling of menstrual hygiene products, which women use because of biological necessity,” said Assemblymebmer Linda B. Rosenthal (D/WF- Manhattan), sponsor of bill A.521A to require menstrual hygiene package labeling in New York State. “There is something deeply amiss when chemicals are deemed too unsafe for paint stripper, but just fine for women to use in their tampons. Without my legislation requiring package labeling, we leave millions of New Yorkers blindfolded in the aisles of drug stores and supermarkets as they consider what products to buy for themselves and their families.”
Along with this disclosure bill, Rosenthal has championed other menstrual equity bills including no cost period products for menstruating individuals in New York’s schools, homeless shelters and correctional facilities, and led the way to eliminate the state’s tampon tax in 2016.
To help support A.521A, women across the state of New York are using WVE’s Detox the Box Party Kits to raise awareness about the hazards of hidden and harmful chemicals in menstrual care products, and de-stigmatize periods and vaginal health.
“These parties provide a relaxed and fun space to spark dialogue between friends about the products used on and in the vagina,” said McConnell. “In New York, women are using these parties to support their right to know, their right to safe products, and to ultimately put an end to practices and policies that put their health at risk.”
A Detox the Box Party Kit includes fact sheets on harmful chemicals found in some menstrual products, a discussion guide, spoof videos that call-out harmful body-shaming marketing, and actions to take to ensure menstrual products are universally safe and accessible. Kits also include information on A.521A, and simple ways they can contact their assemblymember, encouraging support for ingredient disclosure of period products.
“We are encouraged and inspired by women in New York and across the nation who are demanding their right to know,” said Rosenthal.
Detox the Box Parties are currently being held in the following New York communities:
Astoria, Bayport, Brooklyn, Cleveland, Cortland, Dunkirk, Farmingdale, Guilderland, Lake Grove, Montclair, New York, Niverville, Pelham, Rochester, Whitesboro. Interviews available.
ABOUT Women’s Voices for the Earth (WVE)
Founded in 1995, Women’s Voices for the Earth is a national environmental health organization that works to amplify women’s voices to eliminate toxic chemicals that harm our health and communities. WVE’s menstrual products work was launched in 2013 with the report, Chem Fatale, and has helped elevate the topic of period health into the public mainstream. www.womensvoices.org