High amounts of chemicals linked with heart disorders, diabetes and cancer, have been found in popular sanitary napkins sold in India, according to a study done by a Delhi-based environmental NGO.
The study by NGO, Toxics Link, found the presence of phthalates and volatile organic compounds in a total of ten samples, six inorganic and four organic sanitary pads available in the market. The findings were published in a report titled 'Menstrual Waste 2022'.
Phthalates, found in sanitary napkins, are known to cause reproductive toxicity and are also considered potentially cancer causing. Phthalates have also been identified to have a possible association with fertility impairment, early puberty in girls, asthma, and thyroid.
Interestingly, although all types of sanitary napkins, organic and inorganic, tested positive for the presence of phthalates, the highest amounts of phthalates were found in self-proclaimed 'organic' sanitary napkins, the study found.
Sanitary napkins samples were checked for presence of a total of 25 volatile organic compounds (VOCs) out of which compounds such as acetone, chloroform, Benzene, toluene, and others were detected in all the samples, inorganic and organic.
The study also pointed out that sanitary pads have been adding fragrance, in order to provide the user a feeling of freshness, but there is a growing concern that some of these chemicals may affect user's health."This may involve usage of chemicals like synthetic musk which are
potential hormone disruptors, cancer causing chemicals like styrene, pyridine, methyl eugenol, and butylated hydroxyanisole," it stated.
The study also cited the example of South Korea where 15,000 women had filed a class action lawsuit against the sanitary napkin brand Lilian as a result of its harmful effects on their health after using their product. These women suffered from rashes, irregular periods, cramping, and infection. The lawsuit resulted in the brand being removed from the market.
Exposure to chemicals through sanitary pads is also of critical concern because of the exposure route site, i.e. vaginal area, and the long-term exposure period. As a mucous membrane, the vagina is capable of secreting and absorbing fluids at a higher rate than skin.The study thus recommended a thorough investigation into the presence and potential impact of VOCs and phthalates on menstruators. It also called for government and standards-making bodies should be framing standards for chemicals in sanitary products.