Are your sanitary napkins safe?

Titled ‘Wrapped in Secrecy’, the report looked for the presence of two specific chemicals – phthalates and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) – in the sanitary napkins

Representative Image 
Representative Image 

NH Web Desk

Most of the popular brands of sanitary napkins sold in India contain harmful chemicals, claims a report released by Delhi-based non-profit organisation Toxics Link.

Titled ‘Wrapped in Secrecy’, the report looked for the presence of two specific chemicals – phthalates and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) – in the sanitary napkins.

It must be mentioned that there are no clear regulations on chemical content in sanitary pads for manufacturers. In a country like India, where even the usage of sanitary pads is yet to be universalised, there is little or no information on ingredients or presence of toxic chemicals in the products sold or available in the market.

Since most commercially available sanitary pads are laden with chemicals, the impact on health and environment post disposal cannot be ignored.

Phthalates are used as plasticisers, which are chemicals added to products to make it soft, flexible and reduce its friction on the surface.

VOCs are added as fragrances, adsorbents, adhesives, moisture
barriers and binders in feminine hygiene products. VOCs are linked to negative health effects such as endocrine disruption, infertility, birth defects and cancer.

For the report, researchers procured 10 menstrual products from markets in the national capital which included both organic and inorganic sanitary pads samples.

The report claimed that all the six inorganic menstrual pads tested showed presence of phthalates. A total of 12 different types of phthalates were found in the inorganic sanitary pad samples, it said.

“The sample from Bella Regular Drai Wings showed the presence of all 12 different types of phthalates. Sofy Anti-bacterial showed the presence of 10 different types of phthalates. Whisper Ultra Clean, one of the most used brands in the country, showed presence of six different types of phthalates. Stayfree Dry Max sample tested in the study showed the highest concentration of DEHP (Di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate), and Evereve Ultra sanitary pad showed the maximum concentration of DEHP,” the report contended.

Of the four organic sanitary pads samples, which were tested for the presence of phthalates, the chemical was allegedly found in all four samples and the concentration detected was in the range of 10-19,600μg/kg.

“Out of the 12 phthalates tested during this study, 10 phthalates were found in PEE Safe 100% organic cotton biodegradable. AZAH Organic Pad showed the presence of five phthalates. Among the four samples, the highest concentration of any phthalate was found in Plush 100% Pure US Cotton, it claimed.

As far as VOCs are concerned, VOCs were detected in all the samples, inorganic and organic. “The highest concentration among all the VOCs was of acetone, at 690 μg/kg in Bella Regular Drai Wings, an inorganic pad. But PEE Safe 100% organic cotton biodegradable pad also contained a high concentration of acetone (591 μg/kg),” found the investigators.

Bella Regular Drai Wings was found to contain 17 VOCs and Evereve Ultra sanitary napkin showed the presence of 17 VOCs. Eighteen VOCs were detected in Sofy Anti-bacterial with the highest concentration of cyclohexanone. Whisper Ultra clean contained 14 of the tested VOCs, with acetone as the dominant one, Stayfree Dry Max also tested positive for 14 VOCs and Nine DryComfort had 17 VOCs.

In India, the sanitary pad market has increased rapidly over the last two decades. The report states that In 2016, sanitary pad sales in the country went up to 5.12 billion pieces, which was expected to grow to 10.31 billion pieces by 2021.3 However, no current data is available on the exact number of pads sold in 2021.

In terms of value, in 2020, the size of Indian sanitary pads market was worth $521.5 million
approximately and this is expected to grow at a CAGR of 11.5% between 2021 and 2027 to reach
around $1,185 million by 2027.

Government schemes on menstrual health in India primary focus on educating menstruators and improving access to menstrual products and in most cases include free distribution of sanitary
pads, mainly disposable, commercial ones. In absence of proper standards, these schemes usually pick up the low cost or easily available products in the market.

Studies have indicated that menstruators, especially young girls benefit tremendously from these schemes. But what is often missed is the impact these pads on health of users. In absence of adequate standards and lack of proper labeling requirements mean that users have no way of making informed choices.

Being a consumer product, sanitary pads are regulated under a BIS standard but these do not require any evidence of safety of raw materials. These standards are old and hence need to be looked into, as products have changed over time, with many additives included to attract consumers.

The report recommends that government and standards making bodies should be framing Standards for chemicals (phthalates and VOCs) in sanitary products. Additionally, it should be mandatory for Producers to disclose the list of product ingredients. Mandatory labeling to disclose ingredients should be brought in to ensure chemical disclosure.

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