How safe are tampons? One reader has been alerted to the possible health dangers of wearing tampons or sanitary towels. Regular tampons contain two substances that are potentially harmful: rayon, to help absorbency, and dioxin, a chemical used to bleach the products. Dioxin is a known carcinogenic, while rayon fibres can stay in the vagina, possibly causing toxic shock syndrome (TSS).
TSS was a major concern in the 1970s and 1980s. In 1980 alone, 38 women in the USA died from it and, of these, 71 per cent had been using a brand of tampons that had recently come on the market. The Public Health Laboratory Service in the UK reckons that two to three women die from 'menstrually-related' TSS every year.
Dioxin is another concern, although very few cases of cancer have been directly linked to the wearing of tampons.
Peter Stephenson, director-general of the Absorbent Hygiene Products Manufacturers Association, which represents tampon manufacturers, is less than sympathetic about women's health concerns. He has been reported as saying: 'It's amazing we haven't removed women en masse from the earth if we believed half the things that were said about these things.'
The fact that three women in the UK alone die every year from wearing tampons should be cause enough for concern, especially when there are safer options available.
Possibly the best-known alternative is the Natracare tampon, made from 100 per cent organic materials. It can be found at most pharmacy outlets, such as Boots, or telephone 01275 371 764 for your nearest outlet if you're in the UK, or (303) 617 3476 if you're in the USA or Canada. Another option is the Eco Yarn Organic Tampon, which is supplied by Miskis on 020 7025 8299 if you're in the UK (or +44 207 025 8299 if you're not).
Finally, conventional tampons are a plague on the environment. The Women's Environmental Network has estimated that it takes six months for a tampon to biodegrade, while a plastic sanitary towel can last for hundreds of years.