Example: [Collected via e-mail, 1998]
I heard many tampon makers would include asbestos in the tampon. Why? Because asbestos makes you bleed
This month's Essence magazine has a small article about this and they mention two manufacturers of a cotton tampon alternative. The companies are Organic Essentials @
A woman getting her Ph.D. at University of Colorado @ Boulder sent this. Read on if you value your health
I am writing this because women are not being informed about the dangers of something most of us use - tampons. I'm taking a class this month and I have been learning a lot about biology and the woman, including much about feminine hygiene. Recently we have learned that tampons are actually dangerous (for other reasons than TSS). Read on if you're interested, if not, that's fine too. But I'll tell you this - after learning about this in our class, most of the females wound up feeling angry and upset with the tampon industry, and I for one, am going to do something about it. To start, I want to inform everyone I can, and
HERE'S THE SCOOP: Tampons contain two things that are potentially harmful: Rayon (for absorbency) and dioxin (a chemical used in bleaching the products). The tampon industry is convinced that we, as women, need bleached white products - they seem to think that we view the product as pure and clean. The problem here is that the dioxin produced in this bleaching process can lead to very harmful problems for a woman.
Dioxin is potentially carcinogenic (cancer-associated) and is toxic to the immune and reproductive systems. It has been linked to endometriosis as well as lower sperm counts for men - for both, it breaks down the immune system. Last September the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reported that there really is no set "acceptable" level of exposure to dioxin - given that it is cumulative and slow to disintegrate, the real danger comes from repeated contact (Karen Houppert "Pulling the Plug on the Tampon Industry"). I'd say using about
Rayon contributes to the danger of tampons and dioxin because it is a highly absorbent substance and therefore when fibers from the tampons are left behind in the vagina (as usually occurs), it creates a breeding ground for the dioxin, and stays in a lot longer than it would with just cotton tampons. This is also the reason why TSS (toxic shock syndrome) occurs.
WHAT ARE THE ALTERNATIVES? Using feminine hygiene products that aren't bleached (which causes the dioxin) and that are all cotton (the rayon will leave fibers and "breeding grounds" in the vagina). Other feminine hygiene products (pads/napkins) contain dioxin as well, but they are not nearly as dangerous since they are not in direct contact with the vagina. The pads/napkins need to stop being bleached, but obviously tampons are the most dangerous. So, what can you do if you can't give up using tampons?
Use tampons that are made from 100% cotton, and that are unbleached. Unfortunately, there are very, very few companies that make these safe tampons. They are usually only found in health food stores. Countries all over the world (Sweden, Germany, British Columbia [sic], etc.) have demanded a switch to this safer tampon, while the U.S. has decided to keep us in the dark about it. In 1989, activists in England mounted a campaign against chlorine bleaching. Six weeks and 50,000 letters later, the makers of sanitary products switched to oxygen bleaching (one of the green methods available) (Ms. magazine, May/June 1995).
Personally I think it's time that the U.S. switches, and we need to make our voices heard.
WHAT TO DO NOW: Tell people. Everyone. Inform them. We are being manipulated by this industry and the government, let's do something about it! Tell everyone to write to the companies Tampax (Tambrands), Playtex, O.B., Kotex. Call the 1-800 numbers on the boxes. LET THEM KNOW THAT WE DEMAND A SAFE PRODUCT - ALL-COTTON, UNBLEACHED TAMPONS.
Origins: This mish-mash of claims began circulating on the Internet in the summer of 1998. It is usually attributed to
Two other names have been dragged into the fray by those looking to attribute claims made in the
(Information about Dr. Katzenellenbogen and her area of expertise can be found on her
Moving beyond the question this
There is some truth in the scare, but a lot a misinformation is mixed in around it. Let's separate the wheat from the chaff.
Before any tampon is marketed in the U.S., FDA reviews its design and materials. Asbestos is not an ingredient in any U.S. brand of tampon, nor is it associated with the fibers used in making tampons. Moreover, tampon manufacturing sites are subject to inspection by FDA to assure that good manufacturing practices are being followed. Therefore, these inspections would likely identify any procedures that would expose tampons products to asbestos. If any tampon product was contaminated with asbestos, it would be as a result of tampering, which is a crime. Thus far, FDA has received no reports of tampering.
Anyone who has dealt with wound care knows cotton fibres adhere to wounds like cat sheddings to a pair of new black pants. If a problem is created by fibres from the tampon being left inside a woman after the tampon's removal, then an all-cotton tampon is going to create more of a problem, not less. Rayon is slick and fibres don't dislodge from it easily — on these two counts, it's the polar opposite of cotton. (You doubt my word? Run a cotton
Ignoring for the moment the sideways logic of this badly-expressed bit of the scarelore, if the use of rayon in feminine products is something to be wary of, it's for an entirely different reason. Dioxins are produced through the chlorine bleaching of wood pulp. The chlorine used to produce rayon results in additional dioxins. Rayon means more dioxins. If dioxins are bad, then you'd want to eschew rayon as well:
After a rash of TSS deaths in 1980 and two 1985 U.S. studies linking TSS to tampon use, manufacturers began removing most of the chemicals. Today, most tampons are made of cotton combined with chemically based viscose rayon.
So, is everything hunky-dory? The answer depends on who you talk to. "The bleach-versus-unbleached debate is old news," says
Though moving to all-cotton unbleached tampons will eliminate any possibility of contact with dioxins from that source, there's danger from another direction: conventionally-grown cotton is one of the most pesticide-intensive crops in commercial agriculture. About 10% of the world's pesticides and 22.5% of all insecticides are used on cotton. According to the Sustainable Cotton Project in California, nearly one-third of a pound of chemicals is used to make just one cotton
When it comes to tampons, there are two things to be concerned about: toxic shock syndrome and contact with dioxins, a nasty carcinogen. They're not the same.
The only way to prevent tampon-induced TSS is to swear off tampons entirely. Though switching to all-cotton or lower-absorbency ones will reduce the TSS risk, it won't eliminate it. Believing that making the switch to all-cotton will make everything safe is naive. It won't. There were instances of TSS even in the all-cotton days.
Those looking to reduce TSS risk (I said reduce, not eliminate) would be well advised to gear down to the lowest absorbency tampon that meets their needs and to use pads on days of lighter flow. Do not leave a tampon in overnight; use a pad.
As for dioxins, a 1994 Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) study concluded that exposure to dioxins, even at low levels, can result in a number of non-cancer health effects in humans, including developmental and reproductive effects, immune suppression, and disruption of regulatory hormones. Other researchers suspect a link between dioxin exposure and endometriosis.
The FDA says there aren't enough dioxins in tampons to worry about:
There isn't an easy answer on how to avoid contact with trace amounts of dioxins. Dioxin are a byproduct of the bleaching process most paper products are subject to, but it also gets into the environment through the burning of chemicals. (The theory has been advanced that any wood fire produces dioxins, but that might be taking it a bit far.) Some tampons and sanitary pads contain minute amounts of this chemical, but so do milk cartons. Dioxins also turn up in fish, meat, and dairy products.
Those concerned about exposure to dioxins through their feminine products should make the move to unbleached ones. They should keep in mind though that dioxins are all around them, and changing their brand of tampon or napkin won't eliminate all exposures to dioxins. Perhaps that's the greatest disservice
Would that it were that simple.
To round this up for those in the bleachers, there is no asbestos in tampons. Depending on the brand, there might be minute amounts of dioxins in some of them, but not (according to the FDA) enough to harm anyone. Thinking consumers might want to reduce their contact with dioxins anyway, trading comfort and absorbency for a bit more peace of mind.
Barbara "monthly dilemma" Mikkelson
| Tampon Terrorism |
|Toxic Shock Syndrome Information Service|
| Tampons, Asbestos, Dioxin and TSS |
(U.S. Food and Drug Administration)
| Asbestos |
(National Institute of Health)
Fumento, Michael. "Tampon Terrorism." Forbes. 17 May 1999. Irkamuddin, Aisha. "How Safe Are Feminine Hygiene Products?" E Magazine. 17 July 1997 (p. 42). 1. Onstad, Katrina. "Sanitary Sanity." Chatelaine. December 1997 (p. 190). Schmidt, Karen. "Puzzling Over a Poison." U.S. News & World Report. 6 April 1992 (pp. 60-61). Business Daily. "Tampons, Fever and Water." 10 October 1997.