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Tampons: What the Manufacturers Don’t Want You to Know About Them

It can be estimated that 72,000 tampons will be used on campus
this year.  Although convenient, using tampons can have health
risk that may not be widely known.  While the Food and Drug
Administration has done no long-term independent testing on the
health risks, groups such as a says that possible
risks an include absorption of vital fluid and mucous that protects
the vaginal walls, toxic shock syndrome, and dioxin poisoning, a
side effect of the bleaching process.  It is important to know
the risks since tampons are used within the most absorbent part of
the woman’s body, the vaginal walls.

According to Dr. Robert Stuart, gynecologist
at the Tang Center at UC Berkeley, TSS, a potentially fatal though
rare disease, is caused by a bacteria Staphylococcus aureus, which,
when released into the blood can cause severe symptoms such as a
drop in blood pressure, high fever, vomiting, rashes and
diarrhea.  Although “its is not really clear how the
bacterium gets into your body,” Stuart said, “it is
associated with tampon use and especially to the super absorbent
tampons, and the longer amount of time it is inside your
body,” He added, however that TSS only occurs in about 5 out
of every 100,000 women.

Cynthia Turner, the health program director
for Mills College, feels that although TSS is not the only health
risk with tampons, it’s one of the biggest, explaining that
is why tampon manufacturers must now put warning on tampon

According to the book Our Bodies,
by the Boston Women’s Health Book Collective,
TSS is linked “especially to high-absorbency tampons made
with rayon and other synthetic ingredients.” These
ingredients are put into tampons to make them more absorbent. 
Rayon, for example is a manmade material produced form wood pulp
and cotton. It is very coarse and “can cause sores on vaginal
walls that you may not notice.”

Even the cotton in tampons is considered a
possible health risk. According to the Organic Trade Association,
approximately 25 percent of the world’s insecticides and more
than 10 percent of the world’s pesticides are used on cotton
crops.  This means each year more than 600 thousand tons of
pesticides and chemical fertilizers are applied to cotton fields in
the United States alone.  According to the Environmental
Protection Agency, five of the top nine pesticides used on cotton
crops, cyanide, dicofol, naled, propagate, and trifluralin, are
known cancer causing chemicals.

Dioxin, a by-product of chlorine bleaching,
creates another potential health risk.

“The cotton that is used for the normal
over the counter tampons is chlorine bleached, and for some woman
that is a concern, for a long-term use it could be
problematic,” said Turner.  While countries such as
England have banned the chlorine-gas bleach, its still allowed in
the U.S.  The EPA since pressured the industry to use
alternative processes such as Elemental Chorine Free Bleaching,
which uses chlorine dioxide instead of chlorine gas. Chlorine
dioxide produces much smaller amounts of dioxin.  Dioxins can
be present in cotton and rayon that were exposed to pollutants
before manufacturing.

In June 2003 the FDA tested seven brands of
tampons and found that they contained a very small amount of
dioxin, well under the tolerable monthly intake.  Dioxin,
however, is extremely toxic and builds up in fat cells of your body
over time.  The negative health effects of dioxin include
endometriosis, headaches, cancer, hormone disruption, birth
defects, low birth weigh, miscarriages, and infertility according
to EPA.