One of the most carcinogenic toxins ever created by humans is dioxin. Dioxin is a by-product of the chlorine bleaching process and other manufacturing processes used in the production of most paper and rayon products such as coffee filters, toilet paper, disposable diapers, and you guessed it, tampons and sanitary pads. Dioxin is one member of the organochlorine family, which includes the contaminant Agent Orange. Most of us are exposed to dioxin on a daily basis: it is in the air, water, and soil in most of the US. Some researchers believe that women who regularly use tampons have a greater health risk than anyone else in the world because they repeatedly expose their vaginal mucosa, which is extremely absorbent, to this terrible toxin. Virtually anything you place on the tissue in the vagina will be absorbed. 24 hour a day direct tissue contact with tampons for up to 5 days every month, and even the more limited contact made by sanitary pads could cause a woman to absorb an excessive amount of dioxin, even if the levels in the production test out as relatively low. This may push women over the edge of what is considered a safe and acceptable exposure limit.

Ongoing studies show that dioxin is a contributor to several damaging health effects including the disruption of the hormonal and endocrine systems and endometriosis. Rhesus monkeys exposed to dioxin resulted in an increased incidence of endometriosis. Citing studies also indicated dioxin was unsafe at any level- not only potentially carcinogenic, but toxic to the immune system and a cause of birth defects.

Endometriosis is a condition in which small patches of the lining of the uterus (endometrium) grow in the wrong places, such as in the ovaries, fallopian tubes, vagina, abdomen, deep inside the uterine muscle, or even in other parts of the body. It can even grow between organs causing them to stick together. The extra tissue is much like scar tissue, and gets red and swollen causing pain during menstruation. Adhesions can form in advanced endometriosis causing reduced function of reproductive organs. Retrograde menstruation or backward bleeding is another contributor to developing endometriosis. Retrograde Menstruation is when blood meant to be flushed from the body through the vagina goes up into the uterus during menstruation. It is unknown why this happens to some women. Ten to fifteen percent of women suffer from endometriosis and up to thirty percent of these women are infertile. Endometriosis is most prevalent in women between the ages of twenty-five to forty four. Among infertile women, thirty to forty-five percent have Endometriosis.

Over 500,000 surgeries a year are performed to remove misplaced cells in order to relieve pain associated with the disease; this does not guarantee total pain relief. Endometriosis subsides after menopause and goes away upon the removal of the ovaries.

Why have we not heard more about the links between dioxin, endometriosis and tampons? The first reason is that the tampon manufacturers legally hire their own researchers to conduct independent research. This means that the FDA’s reassurances to the public are based on the data given to them by the tampon manufactures themselves. The tampon industry is able to filter the results of their “research,” to their best interests. The second reason is that the FDA does not report all pertinent findings to the public. For example, in 1992, a congressional subcommittee working with the FDA stumbled across reports from an FDA scientist (he was hired through the FDA not the tampon industry). This report cited that dioxin was not safe at any level and that the most significant risks may occur from tampon use. The report advised that the most effective risk management strategy would be to assure that tampons contain no dioxin. The results of the full study that this report refers to are not even available to the public. This report was virtually ignored by the FDA, and the public heard nothing about it. Tampons still contain dioxin today. Finally, we are not hearing about this because the tampon industry is not obligated to list the ingredients used to make tampons or to list the chemicals used during the manufacturing process. They also do not require for tampons to be sterilized. Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney from New York points out that there has been far more testing on the possible health effects of chlorine-bleached coffee filters than on chlorine-bleached tampons and related products. We are not getting the full story, that much we can trust!

The FDA and EPA are in disagreement over the dioxin debate. On the FDA website the FDA states that “while there may have been a problem in the past with chlorine bleaching, “rayon raw material used in US tampons is now produced using elemental chlorine-free or totally chlorine free bleaching processes,” The FDA claims that this method of bleaching does not produce dioxin. The EPA has more or less agreed with the FDA for the past 10 years. Now they claim that “the chemical is 10 times more likely to cause cancer than previously estimated. The problem lies in the repeated contact with dioxin. There really is no “acceptable” level of exposure to dioxin given that it is cumulative and is slow to disintegrate.

In early 1989, British women launched a publicity campaign to halt the use of the environmentally hazardous chlorine gas bleaching processes used in the manufacturing of diapers and feminine products. After 6 months, the women won, and this hazardous process was no longer used. Several other European countries as well as New Zealand have also stopped using this process. The USA shows no sign in changing the way that these products are manufactured.

Author's Bio: 

Laurie Lee is the owner of Green Pieces. Green Pieces sells sustainable menstrual products including the Keeper, The Moon Cup, The Diva Cup, and Glad Rags online and is an excellent resource for women who want to learn about the problems associated with traditional feminine hygiene products.