Once upon a time, some white male corporate bosses decided that women would want, or rather, demand perfect, white, sterile looking tampons. Ever since tampons have been around, they have been bleached with chlorine. Bleaching does not make tampons sanitary. What chlorine bleaching does do, however, is produce a by-product called dioxin, which is found in significant levels in chlorine bleached menstrual products, particularly tampons. Dioxin is a known carcinogen, and has been linked, even in small amounts, to cancer, endometriosis, low sperm counts and immune system suppression.
While the exact effects of dioxin on the human body are only now becoming clear, it has been known that dioxin is harmful for quite some time. What is most disturbing is the fact that the Food and Drug Administration discovered trace levels of dioxins in some commercially produced tampons as far back as 1989 and failed to make their findings available to the public. What is more, on the FDA's report on dioxin and medical devices, the sentence "It appears that the most significant risks may occur in tampon products" was deleted in the published product. This was accidentally uncovered in 1992 when a congressional subcommittee overseeing the FDA discovered memos stating the former while referring to studies indicating that dioxins were not only carcinogenic, but caused birth defects and was toxic to the immune system.
Dioxin accumulates slowly in fatty tissues of all animals, including humans, and given the fact that it is very slow to disintegrate, the real risk is repeated contact. Now given the fact that a menstruating woman may use as many as 20 tampons a month, and may come into contact with dioxin each time a tampon is inserted, women are at a very real risk of suffering the side effects of dioxin poisoning. In fact, recent studies conducted in Sweden have demonstrated a link between tampons containing dioxins and other chlorine bleach by-products and an increased risk of developing cancers of the uterus, ovaries and bladder.
There is, at the moment, indirect evidence linking dioxin to incidences of Endometriosis in women. Endometriosis is a disease, which is not yet well understood. It is the growth of endometrial cells outside the uterus. Some places in which these cells grow are the bladder, intestine and ovaries. The symptoms of Endometriosis include infertility and intense pain. It is currently estimated that up to 10% of women may suffer from the disease, however, since it is not easily diagnosed it is unknown how many women actually do have it. Belgian women have been shown to have the highest levels of dioxin in their breast milk in the world. They also have one of the highest incidences of Endometriosis. A German study has also shown that women with high levels of chlorine by-products in their blood have a greater than normal risk of developing endometriosis.
Most disposable menstrual pads are also chlorine bleached, and while contact with dioxin is not as direct, it is still present. Chlorine bleaching used in the manufacturing of most commercial pads and tampons also releases toxic effluent into the environment.
Only 65% of the fluids absorbed by tampons is blood. The remaining 35% of fluids are natural and necessary vaginal secretions. The absorption of these fluids can lead to vaginal dryness, peeling and ulcerating of the vagina and cervix, as studies by various researchers have shown. In one particular study of seventeen young women throughout their menstrual cycle, entitled Study of the Vaginal Mucous Membrane Following Tampon Utilization, vaginal dryness was noted in 89% of cases, peeling in 47% and cellular destruction affecting all layers of the vaginal covering was noted in all cases.
It has been estimated that up to twenty percent of tampon users may suffer from recurrent vaginal and cervical ulcers. This can lead to abnormal discharges, urinary problems and pain during sexual intercourse. Although not entirely clear, it seems that such ulcers are due to the pressure of tampons against the vaginal walls, over-drying of the vagina and decreased calcium levels.
Despite what marketers of most commercial tampons would have young women believe, tampons do actually stretch and sometimes destroy the hymen. This is why young women will often feel sharp pains as they insert and remove their first tampons.
Most tampons found on supermarket shelves are inserted into the vagina with applicators. Paper applicators have been reported to scratch the vaginal walls, while arterial lacerations have resulted from use of plastic applicators.
Deodorants and perfumes found in some tampons can disrupt the microbial balance in the vagina and can lead to irritation and allergic reactions. Fibers from rayon tampons have also been known to embed themselves in the walls of the vagina, leading to inflammation and increasing the risk of Toxic Shock Syndrome. Tampons can also lead to abdominal cramping, urinary tract infections and yeast infections.
There are 73 million women of menstruating age in the United States alone. The use of disposable pads and tampons are not only clogging waterways, but are filling landfills at an alarming rate. Chlorine and its by-products used in the bleaching process of tampons and pads also release harmful chemicals into the environment.