The Health Hazards Lurking in Sanitary Products


I need to talk about tampons. Not the prettiest subject but that’s probably why we don’t talk about them very much. And why I haven’t thought about them very much.

Sanitary products have been around since the 1930s and women everywhere are forever grateful, but the materials they are made of have barely changed in that time. Conventional products are made of Rayon – the man-made fibre created from cellulose wood pulp (cue the slaying of many trees), non-organic cotton (bad for farmers, waterways and wildlife) and synthetic materials like polypropylene (non-biodegradable). That’s not to mention the widespread use of plastic tampon applicators that take 25 years to biodegrade, littering our seas in the meantime.

So I think it’s safe to say sanitary products are bad for the environment, but that’s not all. Conventional products are also treated with a whole host of nasties. These can include chlorine to increase absorbency and make the products white and chemical fragrance. Rayon and viscose fibres can shed in use, leaving behind dioxins that cling to the vaginal wall. Not something I want in my intimate parts. The World Health Organisation claims that dioxins are highly toxic, interfering with the immune system and hormonal balance. The crazy thing is there is no in-depth scientific research on the impact of using these sanitary products (or is it that surprising really?) but for those of us who like to avoid toxic chemicals wherever possible there are alternatives.

TOTM make organic tampons and sanitary towels, 100% free from pesticides, chemical fertilisers, perfume and bleach. They only use cardboard applicators and their products are 95% biodegradable. Healthier for the planet and the women using them, they offer a subscription service so you can have supplies sent straight to your door (or you can submit one-off orders). A box of 10 regular applicator tampons cost £2.80 – more expensive than cardboard applicator Tampax but about the same as their fanciest pearl compak.

I’m converted.

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Are Plastic Food and Drink Containers Safe?

Water bottle

I’ve started to become a lot more aware of my day-to-day contact with chemicals so I thought I would have a look into the types of chemicals used in food and drinks packaging and containers. Colleagues in the office tend to reuse plastic bottles to get their fill at the water cooler. I, on the other hand, use a glass. I even stopped taking a water bottle to the gym and instead drink straight from the water fountain. It’s partly because I was worried about germs but seeing as I only wash my office glass maybe twice a week that’s obviously not my main motivation. It’s more the fact that I think we are far too reliant on plastics without fully understanding how they may affect our health.

It has been suggested that chemicals can leach out of plastics to then be consumed into our bodies through whatever we are eating or drinking from a plastic container. Do you remember a few years ago women in particular were told not to drink water from a bottle that had been heated up in the sun? That’s because bisphenol A (BPA), which has been linked to breast cancer due to its hormone disrupting traits, leaches out of plastics 55 times faster when exposed to hot liquids. I started doing a bit of research and it does seem that BPA has evoked the greatest cause for concern. It is used to make plastic cups transparent and shatterproof so found particularly in babies’ bottles; it’s also used to line the inside of food cans.

It’s difficult as plastics have only been used on mass since the 1960s so we can’t be sure of their long term impact on our bodies. Scientific studies have found consistent, yet very small levels of BPA in our bodies suggesting that yes, we do consume it through our diet. An article in The Independent earlier this year flagged up this very issue and includes a list of where BPA may be used, including on till receipts. There are many other types of plastic so we do have a choice, although choice does make life more confusing I find.

Most water and soft drinks bottles are made from PET which is deemed safe by the majority of scientists (as far as I have found). The concern for plastics mainly comes from reuse as the material deteriorates. Repeated use of plastics increases the chance that chemicals can leach out of the tiny cracks which we wouldn’t see by eye. Health advocates however, recommend not reusing PET bottles although they do believe they are safe for one-time use. Luckily there are alternatives including bottles made from HDPE plastic, low density polyethylene, stainless steel and aluminium. You can get stainless steel and aluminium bottles from plenty of sports and outdoors stores, department stores and healthy/ethical living stores, see One Green Bottle and Sigg (I like this one!).

Sigg bottle

Whilst it’s hard to know what to do for the best, and even harder to avoid plastics all together, here are some simple things you can do based on what I’ve read to date:

• Avoid BPA – marked plastic #7 (see the article in The Independent)
• Drink from a glass at home and in the office, not a plastic cup
• Invest in a stainless steel water bottle for outings
• Use microwavable glass containers to warm food in the microwave rather than plastic
• Don’t leave half a can of food in the tin once opened – transfer it to a glass bowl and leave in the fridge

It got me thinking about the paint used on the inside of mugs too, anyone have any ideas about the safety of that?

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