First of all, what is dioxin? Dioxin is a by-product of chlorine and the bleaching process along with other manufacturing processes used in the production of most paper and rayon products. Products like coffee filters, toilet paper, disposable diapers, tampons and sanitary pads all contain dioxins. Dioxin is a member of the organochlorine, which includes the contaminant Agent Orange. Remember Agent Orange used during Vietnam as a chemical herbicide and defoliant in Vietnam? Scary stuff! We are exposed to dioxin on a regular basis: it’s in the air, water, and soil in most of the US.
Studies show that dioxin is a contributor to many damaging health effects which include the disruption of the hormonal and endocrine systems and endometriosis (a condition in which small patches of the lining of the uterus grow in the wrong places). In a study done on Rhesus monkeys they were reported to have increased incidence of endometriosis. These studies indicated dioxin was unsafe at any level and also carcinogenic and toxic to the immune system and a cause of birth defects.
So why haven’t we heard more about the link between dioxin, endometriosis and tampons and disposable diapers? Let’s start with the tampon industry; it just so happens that the tampon manufacturers legally hire their own researchers to conduct independent research. This means that the FDA reassures the public based on the data given to them by the tampon manufactures. In fact, there was a report in 1992 that the congressional subcommittee working with the FDA came across report findings from an FDA scientist citing that dioxin was not safe at any level and that the most significant risks may occur from tampon use. The report concluded that the most effective risk management strategy would be to assure that tampons contain no dioxin. Interestingly, the results of the full study are not even available to the public. The FDA ignored the findings, and of course the public heard nothing about it.
Tampons still contain dioxin today. One reason we are not hearing about this is because the tampon industry is not obligated to list the ingredients used to make tampons or to list the chemicals used during the manufacturing process. They don’t even require for tampons to be sterilized! There has been more testing done on the health effects of chlorine-bleached coffee filters than on chlorine-bleached tampons and related products.
The FDA and EPA do not agree over the dioxin debate. The FDA’s website they state that “while there may have been a problem in the past with chlorine bleaching”, “rayon raw material used in US tampons is not produced using elemental chlorine-free or totally chlorine free bleaching processes”. The FDA claims that this method of beaching does not produce dioxin. The EPA, though they agree with the FDA for the past 10 years claim that the chemical is 10 times more likely to cause cancer than previously estimated. Repeated contact with dioxin is where the problem lies. Is there an acceptable level of exposure to dioxin? No! It is cumulative and is slow to disintegrate.
Babies who wear disposable diapers are also at risk. Dioxin exposure will hinder the immune system of the individual forever. This means that they will never be as strong as they should have been. Our infants are exposed to dioxins 24/7 and we wonder why our girls are beginning puberty younger than ever with hormonal disorders becoming increasingly common in children. Sodium polyacrylate, which is an absorbent gel, is responsible for absorbing moisture inside the diaper (this was also once used in tampons) and is known to cause staph infection. It’s an irritant to the skin because it absorbs all of the oils and moisture from the skin.
So what can you do? Well, if you are a menstruating woman look for sanitary products that are not bleached and do not contain dioxin, such as Natracare and Seventh Generation products. The Diva Cup is another alternative. This gets inserted into the vagina to collect the flow of blood, rinsed and reused. For diaper wearing babies consider using cloth diapers. Or, look for disposable diapers that are not bleached and do not contain sodium polyacrylate. These products can be found online and at most health food stores.