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HOW SAFE ARE
FEMININE HYGIENE PRODUCTS?

Many people remember the hundreds of tampon-related Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS) cases in the early 1980s. Since then, warnings have been inserted in tampon boxes, and the safety of menstrual products has seldom been much of an issue. Yet there are still toxins in tampons and sanitary pads. And some of them, like dioxin and pesticides, may have grave long-term health and environmental consequences. "Most women want to trust that products will come up to some sort of standard, despite past problems," says Liz Armstrong, author of Whitewash: Exposing the Health and Environmental Dangers of Women's Sanitary Products and Disposable Diapers.

In 1992, a congressional subcommittee found that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) failed to heed its own scientists' 1987 recommendations to test the dioxin levels in tampons and sanitary pads after trace levels of dioxin were discovered. Residues of dioxin find their way into menstrual products as a byproduct of the bleaching process. Dioxins, ubiquitous in the environment, are produced through the chlorine bleaching of wood pulp. The chlorine used to produce rayon results in additional dioxin; most manufacturers of feminine hygiene products use rayon in tampons and wood pulp in sanitary pads for absorbency. "What people don't understand is that it's not just the product, but the manufacture of the product itself, that is an environmental and health issue," says Susie Hewson, founder of Natracare, manufacturer of all-cotton tampons and sanitary pads.

Forewarned, FDA officials admit that both International Playtex and Proctor & Gamble, major manufacturers of tampons and sanitary pads, had informed the agency that their products potentially contained dioxin from wood pulp. Proctor & Gamble also recently purchased Tambrands, makers of Tampax tampons, giving the company the lion's share of the feminine hygiene market-and the power to improve the standards of the entire industry.

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By: Aisha Ikramuddin. Article originally published in E/The Environmental Magazine.


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