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PFAS 'Forever Chemicals' Found in Some Period Products
  • Posted August 14, 2023

PFAS 'Forever Chemicals' Found in Some Period Products

Some menstrual products -- pads, tampons, cups and underwear -- contain harmful “forever chemicals,” according to new research into the contents of these essential items.

Researchers analyzed more than 100 period products looking for fluorinated compounds, an indicator of potentially harmful per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS. The products typically don't list ingredients on their packaging.

PFAS include more than 12,000 compounds that can resist water, stains and sticking. They don't break down easily in the environment or the human body, but instead accumulate.

While exposure to these compounds has been linked to some cancers and immune suppression, there are few regulatory limits on PFAS or period products in the United States or Europe.

Researchers presented their findings Sunday at a meeting of the American Chemical Society, in San Francisco.

"Of course, you're concerned for the wearer, but we're also concerned about the ecological impact because PFAS are ‘forever chemicals,'" said principal investigator Graham Peaslee, a professor of physics at the University of Notre Dame.

"Once these products are thrown away, they go to landfills and decay, releasing PFAS into groundwater," he said in a meeting news release. "And we, or later generations, could end up inadvertently ingesting them."

How much PFAS can pass from materials to skin is unknown.

For this study, researchers analyzed a variety of period products, from single-use to reusable products.

“Our first step was a screening that's done quickly and simply,” said Alyssa Wicks, a graduate student in Peaslee's lab. “We determined if these products had organic fluorine as a surrogate for PFAS.”

Researchers did this by cutting out a small piece each item and analyzing it rapidly using particle-induced gamma-ray emission spectroscopy.

Some pads and period underwear had multiple layers, as many as 10. These were sampled separately.

The team also measured total fluorine in the wrappers of single-use products.

While some of the products potentially contain PFAS, not all do, the study found.

“In general, tampons didn't seem to contain fluorine,” Wicks said in the release. “Same with menstrual cups and the layers of pads that come in contact with a person's skin."

The amount of fluorine in wrappers was a surprise to the scientists. So, too, was the amount in outer layers of some period underwear.

Some of the highest amounts measured were 1,000 to several thousand parts per million total fluorine.

Wicks hypothesized that PFAS might be used to keep moisture out of the wrappers so the contents stay dry. Adding these compounds to the outer layer of period underwear may help prevent leaks, she suggested.

The team analyzed 123 products sold in the United States. They plan to analyze the samples that contained measurable amounts of fluorine specifically for 40 individual PFAS compounds. They also plan to analyze period products sold in Europe.

“It's clear that PFAS are not essential,” Peaslee said. “Feminine products are essential, but the need for a fluorinated wrapper, or the need for a fluorinated layer, doesn't seem to be, because plenty of them are made without relying on these compounds."

Findings presented at medical meetings are considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.

More information

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has more on PFAS.

SOURCE: American Chemical Society, news release, Aug. 13, 2023

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