New York may soon become the first state to require that menstrual products disclose their ingredients on the label. The groundbreaking action follows the release of a study showing that many brands of menstrual products contain chemicals linked to health harms, including reproductive problems, damage to the nervous system and cancer.
New York legislators passed the disclosure bill in June. If it is signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, menstrual products sold in the state would carry a label disclosing all of their ingredients, with percentages of the individual components.
“We know what’s in the food we eat, the medicine we take and the clothes we wear,” said State Sen. Roxanne Persaud, a sponsor of the bill. “We have a right to know what’s in our menstrual products.”
Neither federal law nor any state currently requires on-label disclosure of ingredients in menstrual products. The Food and Drug Administration considers menstruation management products to be medical devices but doesn’t require manufacturers to disclose ingredients.
The study by a team from the University of Illinois-Champaign, published in the journal Reproductive Toxicology, said menstrual pads and tampons pose a particular risk for women, because they are in direct contact with genitalia. Chemicals from these products can be absorbed into the body and are used for decades of a woman’s life.
Researchers tested 11 brands of menstrual pads sold in the U.S. and several European and Asian nations for three kinds of volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, and four kinds of phthalates. The study does not name the specific brands tested.
VOCs are gasses emitted by a wide variety of products, from paints and pesticides to arts and crafts supplies. They may cause immediate health effects ranging from headaches and nausea to liver, kidney and central nervous system damage and cancer.
Researchers found the VOC methylene chloride – a paint-stripping solvent that the Environmental Protection Agency has proposed to ban – in two types of pads. In nine of the brands, they found toluene, and in all of them, they found xylene – VOC solvents that are classified by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry as known human nervous system toxicants.
Phthalates are known endocrine-disrupting chemicals that have been linked to problems of the reproductive system, including hormonal changes, thyroid irregularities and harm to the reproductive systems of baby boys. The researchers found two types of phthalates in the pads they tested, both of which have been found to be toxic by California regulators and European authorities. One of them, di-n-butyl phthalate, shows up in menstrual pads in higher concentration than in common plastic products like packaged film and plastic cups.
Women’s Voices for the Earth, a nonprofit that works to amplify women’s voices to eliminate toxic chemicals in consumer products, was among the organizations that applauded the bill as an important first step. “No one should have to worry that their period products will cause harm to their health or future fertility,” said Amber Garcia, executive director of WVE.
To avoid exposure to potentially harmful chemicals, look for pads and tampons without fragrance, plastic components, or both.