The Toxic Truth About Period Products
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The Toxic Truth About Period Products

by Aisle Team
The Toxic Truth About Period Products

Living in the age of convenience and consumerism has a toxic underbelly. There have been incredible chemical advancements to make a myriad of products more efficient and effective than ever before, but at what cost? Experimenting with new man-made substances leads even the most prestigious researchers and scientists into somewhat uncharted, chemical waters. Whilst we can’t all have a degree in biochemistry, it is important that we question what is going on (and in) our bodies, and hold even our most beloved brands accountable for being transparent about their manufacturing and testing processes, especially when it comes to products that the average person with the period spends 2,540 days of their life using. 

In 2019, Doctor Graham Peaslee, professor of physics in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at Notre Dame University, was sent a pair of period underwear to be tested for toxic chemicals. His findings? The inner layers of the underwear had been treated with PFAS. 

This led to an extensive study led by Peaslee’s graduate student at the time Alyssa Wicks, who tested an array of feminine hygiene products and packaging using particle-induced gamma ray emission spectroscopy. Out of the many period products tested, including tampons, pads, incontinence underwear, and menstrual cups, period underwear had the highest level of PFAS.

What Are PFAS? 

PFAS or per-and-polyfluoroalkyl substances, are a complex group of man-made, chemically manufactured compounds composed of carbon and fluorine atoms. The bond between carbon and fluorine is strong and causes PFAS to have a non-stick, water and stain-resistant quality. 

First developed in the 1940s, they have many uses in many different products, including making pots and pans non-stick, textiles more durable and stain resistant, food packaging more resistant to grease, and paper and cardboard stronger. 

Known as ‘forever chemicals’, PFAS have a very long half-life, meaning that they take hundreds if not thousands of years to break down in the environment. 

What Do PFAS Do To Your Body? 

Since PFAS are very difficult to break down, when absorbed into the body, they are likely to accumulate in blood and organs. Having only been around for less than 100 years, scientists are still learning about the long-term health effects of exposure to different PFAS on the body. Of course, the risk of health effects will depend on dose, frequency, route and duration of exposure, as well as one's own medical predispositions. However, PFAS exposure has been found to be linked to an increase in liver damage, pregnancy-induced hypertension, thyroid issues, increased cholesterol, hormone disruption and cancer. 

How Do I Know If My Period Products Have PFAS? 

When searching for PFAS-safe products, it is important to be diligent and critical of a brand's transparency about testing. When looking for PFAS-safe period underwear, a brand's testing information should be available and accessible on their website or social platforms. If not, a brand should be able to provide you with that information when asked. 

STANDARD 100 by OEKO-TEX® certification indicates that textiles have been tested for harmful substances. A product tested by SGS, an internationally recognized testing company, indicates a brand's careful attention in ensuring their period underwear is safe for you to wear. 

Most importantly, don’t just take a brand's word for it. Many countries have differing regulations on what levels of PFAS are considered unsafe, so depending on where the materials of the products are manufactured, it will be hard to know whether what you are purchasing is ‘up to code’. Recently, the Canadian government announced its intention to designate PFAS a class of toxic substances under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act. This will open the door to further regulatory restrictions. In the US, only certain states are even regulating PFAS currently in products and are proposing to designate PFAS as a hazardous substance under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act.  

With little research, corporate greed, and inconsistencies in international regulations, when it comes to PFAS, it is important to hold brands accountable and look for companies that prioritize proper testing and transparency. Whilst PFAS are an inevitable part of our human experience in the 21st century, it is worth it, for you and your menstrual health, to select and invest in products that are safe and sustainable

All Aisle period underwear are made with textiles that hold STANDARD 100 by OEKO-TEX® certification, and have been further tested through SGS, Sierra Club, and Mamavation.

 

Ella Adkins is a writer, teacher and occupier on the ancestral homelands of the Sḵwx̱wú7mesh, Stó:lō and Səl̓ílwətaʔ/Selilwitulh and xʷməθkʷəy̓əm Nations. Her work has been featured in Femme Art Review, Peripheral Review, SAD Mag, ReIssue and Public Parking.


SOURCES 

[American Chemical Society Meeting]. (2023, October 8). Indicator of PFAS found in some — But not all — Period products [Video]. Youtube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bmOTfSanVVQ&list=PL-qHxGvFeZV3ftwffkiRifq6E0CvXexwU&index=5


ATSDR (2024, January 18). Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) and Your Health. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. Retrieved April 28, 2024, from https://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/pfas

CDC (2017, April 17). Biomonitoring Summary: Perfluorochemicals. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved April 28, 2024, from https://www.cdc.gov/biomonitoring/PFAS_BiomonitoringSummary.html#:~:text=The%20elimination%20half%2Dlife%20of,or%20effects%20of%20other%20PFCs


CR (2022, December 6). EPA Says Even Extremely Low Levels of PFAS in Drinking Water May be Unsafe. Consumer Reports. Retrieved April 28, 2024, from https://www.consumerreports.org/water-quality/even-extremely-low-levels-of-pfas-in-drinking-water-unsafe-a1147585461/


Harvard University (2024, May 5). Menstrual Hygiene Products: Pads and Tampons are the Go-To Choice. Harvard T.H. Chan. Retrieved April 28, 2024, from https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/applewomenshealthstudy/updates/menstrualhygieneproducts/


NIH (2024, April 2). Perfluoroalkyl and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS). National Institute of Environmental Health and Sciences. Retrieved April 28, 2024, from https://www.niehs.nih.gov/health/topics/agents/pfc#footnote2


Osler Law Firm (2024, January 5). Regulation of 'forever chemicals' (PFAS) in Canada. Osler. Retrieved April 28, 2024, from https://www.osler.com/en/resources/regulations/2024/regulation-of-forever-chemicals-pfas-in-canada#:~:text=The%20Prohibition%20Regulations%20prohibit%20the,and%20photolithography%20and%20photographic%20film


TIME Magazine (2023, February 9). PFAS 'Forever Chemicals' Are Turning Up in Menstrual Products. Here's What You Need to Know. Time Magazine. Retrieved February 4, 2024, from https://time.com/6254060/pfas-period-chemicals-underwear-tampons/

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