Safety of absorbent hygiene products

Consumers can trust the safety of baby diapers and feminine hygiene products

Reports sometimes refer to chemical traces in absorbent hygiene products for women and babies – these products include feminine hygiene products such as sanitary pads, panty-liners, tampons and baby diapers.

It is important to understand what chemical traces mean, and that these may come from different sources in our daily environment. Everything in life, including products that we use every day and the food we eat, contains chemicals, both natural and synthetic in origin. For years, billions of absorbent hygiene products have been safely used by people all over the world. The fact that chemicals may occasionally be identified at trace levels in absorbent hygiene products does not mean that they present a health risk to consumers. EDANA’s member companies – the product manufacturers and their suppliers - keep safety at the very heart of what they do.

Myths about the composition of sanitary products

While some myths exist about how absorbent hygiene products are manufactured and what their components are, these products are made of components which you find in many everyday products.

The final products and their components are made of natural or man-made materials (cellulose pulp, viscose, cotton, super absorbent materials, polymers such as polyester, polyethylene, polypropylene and various adhesives).   These products are constructed from raw materials such as cellulose pulp, the same material paper is made of, and polyester that you will find in your clothes and your sportswear.

Absorbent hygiene products are produced in several steps in compliance with local and international safety standards and regulations. Raw materials are selected according to strict quality criteria and during manufacture, rigorous quality control systems and good manufacturing practices are in place to ensure the highest hygienic standards are met.

Additional information about absorbent hygiene products, including how they are made, can be found at http://www.edana.org/discover-nonwovens/products-applications/absorbent-hygiene-products.

Manufacturers also carry out post-marketing surveillance of their products, actively respond to consumer comments or questions, and provide information about safety assessments to regulatory bodies. Should you wish to learn more about regulatory requirements or voluntary guidelines that the industry has adopted for absorbent hygiene products, this can be found in the ‘Supply Chain Information for Personal Care Products’ at http://www.edana.org/industry-initiatives/product-stewardship.

 

Trace levels in products

Chemicals which are found in very low amounts (some barely detectable, measured in parts per billion or even parts per trillion) are referred to as “residues” and/or “traces”. How traces are identified depends upon what analysis is used and how sensitive this is.

Today it is possible to detect smaller and smaller amounts of substances by using advanced analysis and detection techniques – even at amounts that are well below the levels that are established as safe for human use/consumption. Some tests use harsh methods to extract the various elements from a product, which while effective for measurement, does not represent the real conditions under which people use absorbent hygiene products every day. These harsh tests often involve the shredding of products and use chemical solvents which we do not have on our skin. A better alternative is to extract elements using a solution of salt in water, which better reflects real life conditions, and the relevant exposure during use by consumers.

 

What are Dioxins?

Dioxins are a group of chemical compounds which are present in the environment, as they are created both by natural (e.g. forest fires) and industrial processes (e.g. combustion engines, or treatment with chlorine). This means it is not unusual to find very small traces of dioxins in food, clothes and consumer products.

Manufacturers of absorbent hygiene products neither add dioxins to their products nor use dioxins during the manufacturing process, and rumours that the purification process for the fibres in products such as tampons and baby diapers create dioxins harmful for consumers are untrue.

Purification is a cleansing method for fibres, and also helps improve the absorbency of the products they are used in. Purification and bleaching methods used today in the absorbent hygiene industry do not create dioxins, because these methods are elemental or totally chlorine-free.

Traces may be found in absorbent hygiene products due to the ever-present nature of dioxins, as environmental pollutants, but the traces are at such a low level that it is lower than exposure from other sources such as food. For example, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has tested tampons for dioxin traces and advised that there is no concern to human health – the report you can read more at  http://www.fda.gov/downloads/scienceresearch/specialtopics/womenshealthresearch/ucm135376.pdf.

What are halogenated organic compounds?

Halogenated organic compounds are a group of chemical compounds that contain at least one halogen (fluorine, chlorine, bromine or iodine) combined with carbon. Compounds differ in how they react and behave depending on the chemical structure and which halogen it is.

Some media have identified traces of halogenated organic compounds in absorbent hygiene products, however, consumers can be sure that halogenated organic compounds are not intentionally added during the manufacture of absorbent hygiene products.

Halogens may be detected by  tests used to detect either extractable organic halogens (EOX) or absorbable organic halogens (AOX) – subsets of the broader category of halogens. One test for AOX is typically used to measure pollutants in waste water testing as specified by ISO 9562:2004, to indicate the overall level of halogens and to assess the environmental quality of water. The method is therefore not specific and not validated for finished products, and by testing absorbent hygiene products this way, real-life conditions are not reflected and any test results are likely to be misleading. Consumers cannot draw any reliable conclusions about the safety of absorbent hygiene products from such tests.


What are herbicides and pesticides?

Herbicides and pesticides are substances used in farming to destroy insects or other organisms harmful to crops, plants or to animals.

Stories have circulated online that traces of pesticides and the herbicide glyphosate can be found in baby diapers and feminine hygiene products. Manufacturers of absorbent hygiene products neither add pesticides to their products nor use pesticides during the manufacturing process, and carry out strict controls of the final products and their raw materials.

Viscose, cotton, and other polymers used in baby diapers and feminine hygiene products follow strict legal requirements (including EU regulations) and voluntary guidelines on consumer product safety. Such voluntary guidelines may be published by organisations in the EU Member States, such as the German Institute for risk assessments BfR (‘Bundesinstitut für Risikobewertung’)  and the Austrian Health Ministry (in German) 

A report on the safety of feminine hygiene products issued by the Swiss Office of Federal Food Safety (OSAV) can be read here ( available in French, German and Italian).

In addition, the absorbent materials (such as pulp and cotton) are thoroughly processed and evaluated before their use. During processing, any residues that may be harmful to consumers are removed, and EDANA member companies work closely with their suppliers to ensure this.

EDANA assures all women and parents that baby diapers and feminine hygiene products can be used with confidence. Additional information about the composition of your or your child’s product can be found on our website here. You can also find more information about testing of baby diapers here.
 

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