In the 1970’s tampons were implicated in cases of Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS) which sickened hundreds of women and killed 38. Apparently they were using synthetic materials that attracted the bacteria that lead to TSS. Today, manufacturers use a combination of cotton, rayon /viscose – but is it safe?
There are several aspects of tampons that can adversely affect a woman’s health. There is the pesticide issue. Another issue is the presence of the chemical dioxin, as a result of the bleaching process. There is also the fact that most tampons are made with a combination of cotton fibers and synthetic fibers like viscous rayon.
The rayon/viscose used in tampons originates from wood pulp, but it is turned into a synthetic materials through the magic of chemistry. Additionally, manufacturers bleach the wood pulp – a process that creates chlorinated hydrocarbons, a dangerous group of chemicals with byproducts that includes dioxins – a highly toxic chemical. Even in tiny amounts (parts per million) dioxins are extremely toxic and accumulate in the tissues.
Furthermore, we have a cotton crop that is genetically modified to withstand heavy doses of pesticides including glyphosate, a chemical that has been associated with cancer, infertility, skeletal deformities and autism.
The mucous membrane of the vagina easily absorbs chemicals. Exposure to these dangerous substances over time can lead to seemingly unrelated health problems like neurological problems, hormone problems or cancer.
Over one billion tons of pesticides and herbicides are applied to cotton crops each year in this country. These pesticides certainly persist in the cotton fibers used to make tampons.
This recent study conducted at National University of La Plata headed by Damian Marino found traces of glyphosate in 85% of personal care and feminine hygiene products containing cotton and commonly purchased in drugstores and supermarkets.
According to Revolution News,
The study looked at a sampling of products from pharmacies and supermarkets in the area of La Plata, and analyzed cotton swabs, gauze and articles for feminine use. The results from all commercial products detected 85% glyphosate and 62% AMPA (metabolite or derivative of glyphosate). Almost 100% of the cotton produced in Argentina is transgenic and glyphosate applications are made while the cocoon is open.
According to a recent report from International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) under the World Health Organization, glyphosate is classified as “probably carcinogenic.”
Aside from causing cancer, these pesticide residues, over time, can adversely affect the nervous system and disrupt hormone production.
Glyphosate is the active ingredient in Roundup. It is a non selective herbicide that was patented in 1964 as a strong metal chelator. That means that it grabs hold of elements and makes them unavailable.
In 1974 Monsanto registered glyphosate as an herbicide. It binds up calcium, cobalt, copper, iron, manganese, magnesium, nickel, boron and zinc.
Glyphosate disrupts plant physiology so that they cannot grow and can’t defend themselves against disease. The plants die as a result of the diseases they may acquire — indirectly from the glyphosate.
Glyphosate is systemic. It takes only one drop sprayed on any part of the plant and it goes throughout the entire plant. A minimum of 20% of glyphosate that hits the foliage is exuded through the plant’s root system directly to the soil. It stays in the soil.
The US Geological Service discovered glyphosate residues in significant concentrations in the air, the rain, in rivers, in streams and in lakes.
The US Geological Service found that in 2007 there were 88,000 tons of glyphosate being used — up from 11,000 in 1992. In the soil, glyphosate residues are up from .04 ppm to .08 ppm. There are residues found in corn, soybeans, soybean meal, and potatoes.
If they are finding these residues in plants, they are certainly in cotton, which is highly sprayed – as indicated in the study above.
The manure taken from the CAFOS (Confined Animal Feeding Operations) show AMPA residues (metabolite of glyphosate) are up from .24 ppm to .81 ppm.
In South America Dr. Carrasco found severe skeletal deformities (cheeks, bones) in children of mothers who lived around the fields which were sprayed with glyphosate by airplane. In his own experiments he found 1 part to 3500 glyphosate caused deformities in frog and chick embryos.
French researcher Dr Gilles-Eric Seralini, documented that only 1-2 ppm can cause complete infertility of sperm and egg. Dr. Seralini again documented 2-10 ppm to cause damage to endocrine makeup of cell.
You do not want glyphosate residues in your body, much less your vagina.
Dioxin has been recently described as a known human carcinogen by the EPA. This carcinogentic substance is allowed to come into direct contact with female internal organs and membranes and can lead to hormone problems.
However the FDA claims that there are no detectable levels of dioxins in tampons.
State-of-the art testing of tampons and tampon materials that can detect even trace amounts of dioxin has shown that dioxin levels are at or below the detectable limit. No risk to health would be expected from these trace amounts. (source)
Yet this study did find trace amounts of dioxins (and there are many kinds of dioxins) in tampons. Just as a note, this study did conclude that exposure to dioxins is much greater through the diet than tampons or diapers. Still, I would try to minimize all exposures as they accumulate.
Dioxin is an endocrine disruptor (may increase levels of estrogen causing an imbalance in hormones) and may affect the lining of the uterus and result in endometriosis. This is a painful disease where endometrial cells from the lining of the uterus inappropriately grow outside of the uterus. These cells may appear on the ovaries, on the outside of the uterus or fallopian tubes, or elsewhere in the abdominal cavity. Endometriosis causes infertility, a problem common in young women today.
Aside from toxic shock syndrome, cancer and endometriosis, dioxin may cause birth defects, the inability to maintain pregnancy, decreased fertility, reduced sperm count, diabetes, learning disabilities, immune system suppression, lung problems, skin disorders, and lowered testosterone levels.
Additionally, from a mechanical point of view, inserting tampons may cause tiny cuts and/or abrasions in the vagina making it more susceptible to the chemicals in the tampons and the spread of STD’s.
Viscous rayon can still amplify toxins to some extent, and the lowest risk [for TSS] would be had by using all cotton.
says Dr. Philip Tierno of the New York University Medical Center. Today most tampons are made with rayon, conventional cotton, and undisclosed chemical fragrances. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) insists such tampons are safe. (source).
In addition to the synthetic rayon used, tampons also contain chemicals to enhance absorbency, deodorants, and artificial fragrances. Fragrances alone can be made of hundreds of chemicals that are not regulated by the FDA.
Bleaching is another process that adds toxic chemicals to the mix. However, according to the FDA,
At one time, bleaching the wood pulp was a potential source of trace amounts of dioxin in tampons, but that bleaching method is no longer used. Rayon raw material used in U.S. tampons is now produced using elemental chlorine-free or totally chlorine free bleaching processes. (source)
North American women spend about two billion dollars a year on tampons.
It is a BIG BUSINESS.
The average woman, menstruating for five days a month for 38 years will use approximately 11,400 tampons in a lifetime. That’s way more than diapers and diapers are on the outside of the body – tampons are on the inside.
I’ll never forget the first time I started to use tampons. It felt like I was free from those horrible sanitary napkins that (back then) had to be held in place with a belt.
Anyone else remember that?
We certainly have come a long way – now we have pads that self stick and come in all sizes and shapes. There has to be a better way than putting something toxic in the vagina, where absorption of anything (including toxic chemicals) is so high.
Here is a great idea that has been around for years – the Diva Cup. Their website has a lot of information on it.
Do you or someone you know still use tampons? What about the Diva Cup? Have you tried it? Will you? Leave a comment and let me know!