The thought of women unknowingly
putting potentially cancerous materials directly in contact with their
vaginas seems appalling; especially when this could be a potential contributor
to uterine and/or ovarian cancer.
are safer alternatives available, and that most women don't
know about them really struck a cord and convinced me to write about this
problem -- and about some of the solutions.
Before I tell you about the
safer alternative menstrual products, I'd like to give you some background.
When I went online to research, I discovered that dioxin was not the only
threat to women. Actually, there are two basic problems with synthetic
(1) the synthetic materials
are often so absorbent that they create a perfect breeding ground for
Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS), especially in young females who haven't
had time to develop the necessary antibodies; and
(2) the chlorine used in
the bleaching process can release dioxin, a known carcinogen, into a
woman's vagina and uterus.
Both these problems are controversial,
and both stem from the fact that most manufacturers use synthetic materials.
Ironically, both of these potential dangers to women were known about
years ago. As far back as 1980, Procter and Gamble Rely
Tampons were discovered to have caused the death
of 38 women from Toxic Shock Syndrome.
A big flurry of publicity followed.
Rely tampons were taken off the market and women were warned to use the
least absorbent tampon possible. However, it is an industry-known fact
that there were no real standards for arbsorbency, and one company's
"absorbent" product might actually have been more absorbent
than another company's "super absorbent" product!
Although the number of TSS
cases reported to the Centers for Disease Control has admittedly dropped
since the Rely tampon tragedy, many experts attribute this decrease to
the termination of active surveillance by the Centers for Disease Control.
According to Tom
Riley, author of Price of a Life, who has represented more victims
of Toxic Shock Syndrome than any other attorney: "All experts agree
that the number of TSS cases in the United States are under-reported.
That is because reporting by the states to the Centers for Disease Control
and Prevention is voluntary and most states are unwilling to incur the
expense of gathering the data and submitting it to the CDC.
As certain as the sun's appearance
in the East tomorrow, toxic shock syndrome will also appear in one or
more tampon users, sometimes with deadly results but always with the infliction
of a terrible ordeal and some residual effects." And according to
a February, 1999 USA
Today article: "By CDC estimates, 1,300 people get toxic-shock
syndrome each year. Half are related to tampons; 5% die." In short,
Toxic Shock Syndrome is alive and well.
The truth is, most of the testing
that is done on menstrual products is paid for by the manufacturers themselves,
and there are very few independent studies. There is one exception. In
1994, two New York University Medical Center researchers, Drs. Philip
Tierno and Bruce Hanna -- the only such independent researchers -- tested
100 percent cotton tampons for the first time.
According to a 1999 article
Magazine, "their studies concluded that tampons
containing synthetics amplify the production of the TSS-causing toxin
by certain strains of bacteria, whereas the all-cotton tampons produced
no measurable toxin." And the same article quotes Dr.
Tierno as saying, "Synthetic tampons absorb more water than [does]
cotton, leaving behind concentrated proteins that are used by staph bacteria
to create the toxin, creating toxin factories."
To this day, it is believed
that most menstrual products still contain rayon, a synthetic material,
but this cannot be confirmed. Nor do we have any idea what other ingredients
are in these products, since manufacturers are not required to disclose
As you know, eHealthy News
has reported many times on the dangers of dioxin -- in particular,
the dangers of dioxin with relation to our food and environment.
One exception: a
letter in April, 1999, about dioxin as a threat to women
because it is a byproduct of the bleaching process used to
manufacture tampons and pads.
The confusion surrounding the
dioxin issue is very similar to the Toxic Shock Syndrome issue, again
with controversy on both sides. This issue, too, has been known about
for years. In 1989, concerned women launched a 6-week campaign in Great
Britain to force the manufacturers of diapers and feminine hygiene products
to change their manufacturing process, in order to get rid of the dioxin
Repeated exposure to dioxin
can lead to cancer, as well as to "non-cancer health effects, including
developmental delays, birth defects, hormone disruption and immune cell
suppression. The toxin accumulates in
humans, particularly women's body fat and breast milk, with repeated exposures,
and 16,800 tampons over the course of a lifetime certainly qualifies."
Hidden Price of Feminine Hygiene Products," E-Magazine, Jennifer
Their grassroots campaign
was extremely successful; it changed the way menstrual products were manufactured
in Great Britain.
Actually, it seems that countries
other than ours have been much quicker to remedy the potential dioxin
problem. According to Karen Houppert, author of both the book, The Curse,
and the extremely informative Village Voice article, "Pulling
the Plug on the Tampon Industry," while this country's Environmental
Protection Agency prolongs the debate over dioxin's dangers and drags
its heels about regulating organochlorines, in many other countries, there
has been a great deal more progress.
According to Ms. Houppert:
"In Germany, 50 per cent of the paper industry has already switched
from a chlorine bleaching process to a less toxic alternative.
Ontario and British Columbia
have passed laws requiring pulp mills to eliminate organochlorine discharges
by 2002... The Paris Commission got 13 nations to agree to eliminate organochlorine
effluent, and the Barcelona Convention got a similar promise from 21 Mediterranean
Here in America, it's
been a different story. It's true that some reporters have
expressed concern: In addition to Ms. Houppert's book and articles,
there have been several articles in the alternative presses about the
problem, including two in E Magazine (article
2), and two in Vegetarian Times, including one here.
In addition, there have been articles in newspapers and in various campus
On its website,
the FDA says that, while there may have been a problem in the past with
chlorine bleaching, "rayon raw material used in U.S. tampons is now
produced using elemental chlorine-free or totally chlorine free bleaching
processes." This method of bleaching, the FDA concludes, does not
Others disagree, and recently,
the Environmental Protection Agency which, in past years, underplayed
the dangers from dioxin, issued a report, which stated, according to the
New York Times, that "the chemical is 10 times more likely to cause
cancer than previously estimated." (NY Times, May 18, 2000)
But there have been few hard-hitting
articles examining these problems (and the available alternative products)
in the major presses.
Most probably, because of pressure
from the corporate manufacturers. Nor have there been ads for alternative
products in the major magazines, since the alternative product manufacturers
are all small, mostly women-run companies that simply do not have the
money and clout to do more aggressive marketing. In general, they get
their customers through word of mouth and articles and small ads in feminist,
environmental and women's health publications.
Start investigating the safer,
more environment-friendly feminine hygiene products on the market. There
are several. If you're looking for the convenience of disposables,
you will want to use pads or tampons that are cotton, yet do NOT contain
synthetic materials. Even the large companies have tried producing such
products, most notably Procter and Gamble's Tampax Naturals but,
according to an the E-Magazine article already quoted, this product was
pulled from the market because it was not a "big
Finding organic cotton menstrual
products would be preferable, anyway, since organic cotton, like organic
food, is produced using more stringent standards. Like organic food, the
cotton will contain no pesticides and will therefore be a hopefully purer
There are many disposable organic
cotton products, manufactured by companies such as Organic
Essentials and Natracare.
(Others will be listed below.) And there are reusable organic cotton pads,
such as GladRags.
These products, and others, are sold at Whole Foods and other stores whose
emphasis is on health and sustainability.
Another reusable product, The
Keeper, manufactured by The
Keeper, Inc., is a natural rubber cup, which is worn internally during
your period. While not easily found in stores, The Keeper is available
via the web, both from the manufacturer and through the product's
many distributors worldwide.
Women who are concerned about
the environment will probably want to explore reusable menstrual products,
because disposables, even organic cotton disposables, by their very nature,
do impact the environment. If flushed down the toilet, disposable pads
and tampons can clog the sewer line; or they can go on to play havoc with
the water treatment plant. It has been reported that, in 90% of plumbing
problems, the culprits are non-reusable menstrual products!
I hope you will want to investigate
the many brands and kinds of menstrual products on the market. Below,
you will find several informative websites.
-- But Not All -- Of The Products Worth Investigating:
Some Very Interesting Sites That Deal With This Topic:
Museum of Menstruation