Many menstruating women choose to wear sanitary pads throughout their cycle to contain the flow of blood. But, over the years, several studies have highlighted the perils of these menstrual hygiene products, cautioning that they not only harm the body, but also the environment, since they are single-use products that potentially contain plastic.
Joining the slew of studies is a recent one titled ‘Wrapped in Secrecy: Toxic Chemicals in Menstrual Products‘, released by environmental NGO ‘Toxics Link’. According to a press release, the study has found the presence of toxic chemicals like phthalates and VOCs (volatile organic compounds) in organic and inorganic sanitary pads that are sold in the Indian market.
Per the release, the study tested most of the major brands of sanitary pads available in the country, and detected these chemicals that can cause skin irritation, allergic reactions and can be endocrine disruptors for users. The report revealed new information on contaminants found in sanitary pads that can also cause cancer and release microplastic particles into the environment.
Elucidating further, Dr Aakanksha Mehrotra, programme coordinator at Toxics Link told indianexpress.com that a survey revealed sanitary pads to be the preferred choice for most menstruating women. “We found phthalates and VOCs to be present in all the pads that we tested,” the doctor said.
The study conducted this year tested 10 brands of pads and found traces of phthalates and VOCs in all the samples. Twelve different types of phthalates (DIBP, DBP, DINP, DIDP, DMP, DEP, BBP, DNOP, DEHP, DHP, DIPP, DPP) were found, the release stated, adding that highest concentration of phthalates detected in the test sanitary pads was 19460 µg/kg of DIDP in one of the tested organic pads.
Why this is harmful is because phthalates have been linked to various health issues, including endocrine disruption, effects on the heart and reproductive systems, diabetes, some cancers, and congenital disabilities.
“Most of these chemicals are added to make the pad more elastic. But, they are dangerous because they can cause problems like PCOS, endometriosis, hypothyroidism, etc. They can change the hormonal functioning of the body. Phthalates leak out; they are not bound to the product they are added to. The vaginal tissues have a higher permeability. These chemicals, therefore, are absorbed into the body at a higher rate,” Dr Mehrotra warned.
She added that VOCs are used in the pads for fragrance purposes that can cause allergic reactions. Once the pads are disposed of, they are added to the soil and ultimately become a part of the food chain, which can also cause harm to health, she stated.
Agreeing with her, Dr Uma Vaidyanathan, gynaecologist at Fortis Hospital, Shalimar Bagh told this outlet that women who use sanitary napkins need to keep in mind that the skin down there is “very thin and sensitive”. “It tends to absorb these chemicals very fast. As doctors, we use the vagina as a delivery route for hormones. So, imagine that if sanitary napkins have these chemicals, how fast they will get absorbed into the body. The phthalates and VOCs mentioned in the study can cause severe reproductive toxicity and behavioural disorders,” she warned.
Dr Vaidyanathan suggested using safer alternatives like cloth napkins and menstrual cups that are good for the environment, too.