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Chemicals in feminine hygiene products

The EU is gathering information on potential health risks of feminine hygiene products after experts find hazardous chemicals in low concentrations.

The safety of feminine hygiene products, such as sanitary towels, panty liners, tampons and menstrual cups, has been under discussion as two national authorities have found small concentrations of hazardous chemicals in them.

French agency, ANSES, calls for restrictions under REACH and urges manufacturers to improve the quality of raw materials.

In its assessment, the French Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health and Safety (ANSES) called for restrictions under REACH to limit the presence of carcinogenic, mutagenic and reprotoxic (CMR) substances in these products. Currently their composition, manufacture and use are not governed by a specific regulation, but are subject to horizontal legislation, including the General Product Safety Directive (GPSD).

Raw materials to blame

In July 2018, ANSES found traces of fragrances, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAHs) and pesticides in the products with carcinogenic, mutagenic or reprotoxic (CMR), endocrine-disrupting or skin-sensitising properties. Some of the pesticides found are banned in the EU, such as lindane and quintozene.

Most of the substances were not intentionally added to the products, with the exception of one fragrance. In fact, the majority are likely to have come from raw materials being contaminated or as unwanted by-products during production processes such as bleaching or gluing.

Although ANSES’s findings showed that the concentrations were so low, they did not pose a risk, the agency is still advising manufacturers to improve the quality of their raw materials and revise some of their production processes to eliminate risks.

Earlier, the Swedish Chemicals Agency (Kemi) had also concluded that the risk of negative health effects in feminine hygiene products was low. Kemi found 21 chemicals that were either hazardous or suspected of being so in the 35 products they analysed. However, their findings echoed those of ANSES in that the hazardous substances were mainly in low concentrations.

There were three siloxanes used in some menstrual cups for which risk assessment could not be made because of insufficient information about them. These were found at very low concentrations, even below those which EU companies are obliged to report for substances of very high concern (SVHCs). Although the results did not indicate a health risk, Kemi will make manufacturers and importers aware of the findings.

What are the next steps?

Currently, producers are not obliged to disclose the list of product ingredients under the GPSD. However, the directive does state that only safe products can be placed on the market and that producers are responsible for their safety.

Producers also have to provide relevant information and adequate warnings so that the risks can be assessed. Member State authorities are responsible for the enforcement and have to take action if unsafe products are found on the market.

Further expert investigation is required to assess potential health risks of feminine hygiene products and determine whether actions are needed to improve safety.


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