MISSOULA, MT, April 2, 2015 — Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney (D-NY) introduced a renewed version of her legislation focused on protecting women from potential health risks associated with feminine care products. The Robin Danielson Feminine Hygiene Product Safety Act (H.R. 1708) – named after a victim of Toxic Shock Syndrome from tampon use – would require the National Institute of Health (NIH) to support or conduct research on the risks posed by the presence of dioxin, colorants, dyes, preservatives, chemical fragrance and other chemicals used in tampons, pads and menstrual cups, as well as feminine wipes, douches and sprays. The bill also requires public reporting of the research.
“The average woman, for example, uses nearly 17,000 tampons in her lifetime. Yet little is known about the health impacts of chemicals used in a product that most women put inside this sensitive part of their bodies for days at a time on a monthly basis,” said Alexandra Scranton, Director of Science and Research for Women’s Voices for the Earth (WVE). “The extent of possible dangers related to feminine care products is grievously under-researched and the overall industry, woefully unregulated.”
In their report, Chem Fatale, Women’s Voices for the Earth details how the feminine care industry sells products containing unregulated and potentially harmful chemicals, including preservatives, pesticides, fragrances and dyes.
“Douche use has been linked to pelvic inflammatory disease, cervical cancer and other conditions. Some feminine wipes and deodorant include ingredients linked to endocrine disruption and reproductive harm,” said Scranton, lead author of the report Chem Fatale. “We need more research to determine the effects these chemicals have on one of the most sensitive and absorptive areas of a woman’s body.”
Tampons are used by up to 85 percent of menstruating women and may contain dioxins or pesticide residues linked to cancer, hormone disruptors, allergens and irritants from fragrance. Feminine wipes, feminine washes and feminine deodorant products contain toxic preservatives like parabens, which may be hormone disruptors, or quaternium-15 and DMDM hydantoin, which release cancer-causing formaldehyde. Most feminine care products are fragranced and commonly contain known fragrance allergens—including anti-itch products. These chemicals sometimes exacerbate the very symptoms a woman is intending to self-treat with these products.
In 2014, WVE commissioned laboratory testing of the popular pad brand, Always, and found the tested products emit toxic chemicals including carcinogens, and reproductive and developmental toxins. None of these chemicals are disclosed on the product by the manufacturer.
“Given the universal use of products like these by women over their lifetimes, it is imperative that we learn more to better protect women’s health,” said Scranton.
“Chemicals found in feminine care products may disproportionately affect black and Latina women as they are greater users of products such as douche and feminine wipes,” said Cristina Aguilar, Executive Director of Colorado Organization for Latina Opportunity and Reproductive Rights “We know that many of the most dangerous products that are found to cause chronic diseases also target women of color. The reality is knowledge isn’t enough — Latinas who already have health disparities, also face financial, economic, and geographic barriers to accessing safe alternatives. This is a reproductive justice issue, and a fundamental human rights issue that we must expose.”
“Women of color experience disproportionate health impacts related to chemical exposures where we live, work, play and pray,” said Ogonnaya Dotson Newman, Director of Environmental Health at WE ACT for Environmental Justice. “This bill brings us one step to closer to policy that protects the most vulnerable members of our community.”
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) classifies most feminine care products as “cosmetics”. Yet, under current law, FDA does not approve cosmetics, or require testing to determine their safety. Instead it is the voluntary responsibility of cosmetic manufacturers to ensure, before marketing their products, that the products are safe. And while the FDA has issued guidelines for manufacturers on monitoring dioxin and pesticide levels in tampons, there are no similar guidelines for contaminants that may be found in pads, liners, cups, sponges, douches, wipes and similar products used by millions of women.
“There is a serious data gap here, not to mention a glaring lack of oversight, and women’s health may be paying the price,” said Erin Switalski, Executive Director of WVE. “This new legislation is necessary to help fill this void and provide women with the knowledge they need to make informed decisions about their health.”
“Research and regulation into feminine care products is long overdue,” said Switalski. “We strongly support Congresswoman Maloney’s Robin Danielson Act and we’re not alone.”
Women’s Voices for the Earth amplifies women’s voices to eliminate the toxic chemicals that harm our health and communities. With thousands of members across the United States, WVE changes corporate practices, holds government accountable, and works to ensure a toxic-free future for all. Learn more at womensvoices.org.
Quotes of support from feminine care product manufacturers
“Natracare organic and natural tampons and pads were developed 25 years ago out of concern for the impact on women’s health of potentially harmful and damaging ingredients commonly used in feminine hygiene products. We have, for many years, been committed to supporting the Robin Danielson Act championed by Carolyn Maloney.”
–Susie Hewson, founder and developer of Natracare
“In the seven years since the launch of our Maxim brand of Organic and Natural Chlorine Free Menstrual Products, we have had the honor of being the sound board for many women who share with us their personal accounts of the negative affects conventional tampons and pads have on them; everything from TSS to irritation and itchiness. Since there isn’t too much scientific data that captures these very real experiences we come in contact with on a daily basis, we couldn’t be more excited to hear that Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney has made a breakthrough in her 18 year long struggle to get Congress to hear the voices of the women we serve every day.
We salute WVE and Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney for giving this very important cause a voice and will continue to stand by it as long as our loyal fans continue to share their need for it!”
— Rebecca Alvandi, Vice President of Maxim Hygiene Products
“We pay attention to food chemicals that we put in our mouth (an opening to the body) so why shouldn’t we be just as concerned about the chemicals we put in our vagina (another opening to the body)?”
— Stacy Lyon, Founder, healthy hoohoo
“It is common sense that anything entering the body impacts its health either beneficially or detrimentally. The manufacturer of Lunette menstrual cups believes that, just as with food and drugs, women need full disclosure of the contents within the feminine hygiene products they purchase. Such knowledge guides buying decisions that have real life reproductive health implications. Without full disclosure, women unknowingly play Russian roulette with each month — the bullet coming years later in the form of cancer or other life altering illnesses.”
–Caron Rohman, Lune North America, Inc.
“As someone who has heard literally thousands of anecdotal stories about infections, rashes and other health complications related to disposable menstrual products, I will be relieved to finally see this grossly overdue research be done. Consumers of these products deserve to know what’s in them: it’s that simple.”
–Madeleine Shaw, Co-Founder & Creative Director, Lunapads
“Women deserve to know if dioxin and other carcinogens are in their tampons. The Robin Danielson Act would go a long way toward cancer prevention by making everyone more aware of the negative effects synthetic ingredients have on a woman’s body.”
–Jeannie Gallucci, Founder & CEO, Orchidea
“This bill is critical to women’s health. Bringing awareness to an issue that’s been swept under the rug since 1997 (when Carolyn Maloney introcuded similar legislation) will finally signal to women that their government cares about them.”
–Shelli Wright, Founder, True Moon
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