New Transparency Requirements Reveal Ingredient Complexity and Chemical Exposure from Menstrual Products
Alex Scranton, Director of Science and Research at Women’s Voices for the Earth (WVE)
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Bobbi Wilding, Executive Director at Clean & Healthy New York
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Caitlin Ferrante, Conservation Program Manager at Sierra Club Atlantic Chapter
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Chris Dobens, Director of Communications at WE ACT for Environmental Justice
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New report highlights many ingredients in period products that are now being disclosed for the first time, indicating chemical exposure from period products is much more complicated than previously assumed.
For IMMEDIATE RELEASE – A new report released by health and justice organizations, Women’s Voices for the Earth (WVE), Clean & Healthy New York, Sierra Club (Atlantic Chapter) and WE ACT for Environmental Justice, spotlights how new ingredient disclosure requirements for menstrual products are providing improved and vital information about chemical exposure from the use of these products. The report, What’s in Your Period Product? An investigation of ingredients disclosed on product labels, calls attention to significant changes the industry has made in increasing ingredient transparency, as well as chemicals of concern that, until now, were kept hidden from people who use these products.
“This is information we’re getting for the first time, and we are finally getting a picture of just how complex and extensive the chemical exposure from period products can be on the health of our bodies and on the environment,” said Alexandra Scranton, lead author on the report and WVE’s Director of Science and Research. “For example, whereas a handful of manufacturers voluntarily disclosed just nine basic ingredients in menstrual pads previously, we identified a list of 75 ingredients now known to be included in pads including colorants, fragrances, lotion ingredients and other additives. In addition, our study identified 45 different ingredients disclosed in tampons.”
Tampons, pads, menstrual cups and discs are considered medical devices by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and are not subject to ingredient labeling under federal law. In 2019, New York became the first state in the nation to require manufacturers of menstrual products to disclose ingredients by passing A.164-A/S.2387, introduced by Assembly Member Linda B. Rosenthal (D-Manhattan) and Senator Roxanne J. Persaud (D-District 19). The law went into effect in October 2021. From November 2021 – February 2022, Women’s Voices for the Earth (WVE) conducted a field study examining ingredient disclosures on period product labels both in New York and across the United States. This new report examines the findings of that field study.
“New York’s law is giving people across the United States information they urgently need, and with full compliance menstruators across the country will fully understand what’s in these intimate products,” said Bobbi Wilding, Executive Director of Clean & Healthy New York. “In addition to leading the way on ingredient transparency of period products, New York has also passed a series of laws to eliminate the tampon tax, and require free menstrual products in public schools, shelters, and correctional facilities.”
Results of the field study found that, while not always complete, ingredient information is now standard on period product packages in New York; this is a significant change in 2021 compared to just a year prior. In addition, the new requirements for products sold in New York are having a national impact. The report shows that many products in other states commonly included ingredient disclosures on the package similar or identical to what is required in New York, setting a precedent for transparency and affording period product users across the country the right to know what is in their products.
Incontinence products (such as pads and underwear designed to absorb urine) are not in the scope of the New York law. The study found that the ingredients used in these products are still kept secret from users, despite being similar in design and purpose, and often made by the very same manufacturers as period products.
“Having information readily available allows people to make informed and important decisions about what they are purchasing, and phasing out harmful and unnecessary chemicals in everyday products will have a lasting effect on the health of our communities and the environment,” said Caitlin Ferrante, Conservation Program Manager, Sierra Club Atlantic Chapter. “The report outlines that the law in NY was a much-needed and positive first step. We definitely have a way to go to ensure people have the most accurate snapshot of what they are putting in and close to their bodies and most intimate areas. The Sierra Club is devoted to protecting public health and the environment by decreasing exposure to hazardous substances through reducing toxic chemicals in products and in educating people about the potential risks of these toxic substances, and is why we are grateful to have worked to pass A.164 into law here in NYS.”
The report also reveals new information on numerous ingredients found in period care products: chemicals which can cause skin irritation, cause allergic reactions, may contain toxic contaminants that can cause cancer, and release microplastic particles into the environment. Chemical testing in the last ten years raised concerns as toxic volatile organic compounds, phthalates, and other chemicals of concern have been identified in these products. But efforts to better understand these chemical exposures from specific period products (or to identify safer alternatives) were hampered by the general lack of ingredient information from manufacturers.
“We deserve to know all the ingredients that are in the products we use. For far too long people have been exposed to unknown harms while using period care products made from unknown ingredients, especially those who live in communities of color where there are disproportionate levels of toxic exposure. This report, along with the New York State Period Products Labeling Act we helped pass in 2019, are important first steps in empowering people to make healthier, informed choices for themselves,” said Yuwa Vosper, Policy & Regulatory Manager at WE ACT for Environmental Justice. “However, we still have a long way to go to achieve full ingredient disclosure on all the different types of period care products available on the market, and to completely eliminate the use of toxic chemicals in these products.”
PERIOD POLICIES IN THE UNITED STATES
Policies addressing period health and menstrual equity are gaining traction throughout the nation. For example, in addition to passing the new disclosure requirements, New York State has also enacted legislation to eliminate the tampon tax, require free menstrual products in public schools, shelters, and correctional facilities — and most recently approved a procurement policy ensuring that products supplied by the state are specifically more sustainable and promote human and environmental health. Within roughly the last eight years, the United States has passed over 60 laws (both at the state and federal level) to address the safety, access or affordability of menstrual care products. Of note is the Menstrual Equity For All Act, reintroduced by Congresswoman Grace Meng, to help make menstrual products more affordable and accessible by ensuring, among other things, that period care is covered in public and nutritional programs like Medicaid, and supporting grants and funding for menstrual care products in schools, prisons, and homeless and domestic violence shelters.
“We can’t choose whether or not we get a period. Period products are not luxury items—they are an essential need. Everyone who does get a period has the right to affordable, accessible, and safe period products, no matter where they live or what products they use,” said Amber Garcia, Executive Director at WVE. “Menstrual health has long been stigmatized, neglected and ignored. While we continue to have an uphill battle to ensure the health of women, girls and all people who menstruate is prioritized and not politicized, it is encouraging to see menstrual equity practices and policies finally being included as an important part of public health needs and health care.”
“This level of transparency and increased regulations and policies for menstrual products has been decades in the making and is something to celebrate. But it’s clear that all manufacturers can and should improve on their disclosure and the ingredient safety of these products, and support policies to ensure transparency, safety and accessibility is practiced throughout the industry,” said Scranton.
About Women’s Voices for the Earth (WVE)
Founded in 1995, Women’s Voices for the Earth is a national environmental health organization that works to amplify voices to eliminate toxic chemicals that harm our health and communities. WVE’s menstrual equity work was launched in 2013 with the report, Chem Fatale, and has helped elevate the topic of period health into the public mainstream. www.womensvoices.org
About Clean & Healthy New York
Clean & Healthy New York is an environmental health advocacy organization devoted to building a just and healthy society where toxic chemicals are unthinkable, winning nation-leading laws, shifting markets and empowering people to act through deep collaboration in New York and nationally. www.chny.org
About Sierra Club Atlantic Chapter
The Sierra Club is America’s largest and most influential grassroots environmental organization, with millions of members and supporters. In addition to protecting every person’s right to get outdoors and access the healing power of nature, the Sierra Club works to promote clean energy, safeguard the health of our communities, protect wildlife, and preserve our remaining wild places through grassroots activism, public education, lobbying, and legal action. The Atlantic Chapter is the New York Chapter of the larger Sierra Club, focusing on key policy and conservation efforts in New York State. For more information, visit www.newyork.sierraclub.org.
About WE ACT
WE ACT for Environmental Justice is a Northern Manhattan membership-based organization whose mission is to build healthy communities by ensuring that people of color and/or low-income residents participate meaningfully in the creation of sound and fair environmental health and protection policies and practices. WE ACT has offices in New York and Washington, D.C. Visit us at weact.org and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.