Period activists demand tampon companies disclose ingredients
A new wave of health activists concentrated on the concept of “menstrual equity” are demanding that the government hold companies responsible for disclosing all chemicals and materials used to manufacture their menstrual products.
In May, Democratic Representative Grace Meng of New York introduced the Menstrual Products Right to Know Act, a bill that would require manufacturers of pads, tampons, and menstrual cups to list the ingredients in their products directly on the package.
The introduction of this bill garnered attention from activists, particularly from an organization known as Women’s Voices for the Earth. Women from all over the nation gathered in Washington DC on May 23rd to join with Women’s Voices for the Earth to rally in support Meng’s legislation. Advocacy organizations including COLOR (Colorado Organization for Latina Opportunity and Reproductive Rights), Sustain, Period Equity and the Seventh Generation Foundation also came out to show their support and to participate in the first menstrual hygiene panel ever on Capitol Hill.
This is not the first time that a member of Congress has specifically advocated for menstrual product safety. In 2015, Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) introduced the Robin Danielson Feminine Hygiene Product Safety Act of 2015, calling upon the FDA to disclose a list of contaminants that exist within the range of feminine hygiene products that are sold in the United States. This bill was not enacted by the end of its session of Congress and was thus cleared from the books. But this past May, Maloney reintroduced the bill as the Robin Danielson Feminine Hygiene Product Safety Act of 2017, with the hopes that after 10 tries, it may finally move out of committee.
So, why all the fuss about what’s in a tampon?
Most people would agree that a tampon is plug of soft, absorbent material that is inserted into the vagina to soak up menstrual blood. Over the years, it’s been made out of various materials – the Egyptians used papyrus tampons, the Romans made wool tampons and the people of ancient Japan fashioned tampons out of paper. But when it comes to modern day, manufactured tampons, most consumers are completely unaware of what their intimate products contain.
The Food and Drug Administration classifies menstrual products as medical devices and it is suggested that manufacturers include some general information regarding the material composition of any given product. But because menstrual products are regulated as medical devices, the disclosure of individual ingredients is entirely voluntary and up to the manufacturer’s discretion.
This is particularly alarming for consumers as it is likely that many menstrual products contain incidental contaminants or byproducts created during that manufacturing process that may be toxic. In a study conducted by the University of La Plata in Argentina just last year, it was found that at least 85% of the tested tampons, cotton balls, and sanitary products contained traces of glyphosate, a chemical thought to be a potential carcinogen. Whether the product is made out of cotton or rayon, the process of bleaching and purifying the material has the potential to leave behind traces of toxic dioxins that consumers may be exposed to down the road.
The fight has just begun to break the cycle of toxic chemical exposures from menstrual products. To get more involved, be sure to check out the Women’s Voices for the Earth website and lend your voice to the movement.