Toxic arsenic and lead detected in tampons sold in the U.K., Greece, and the U.S., according to first-ever tampon study

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Researchers found more than a dozen metals, including lead and arsenic, in widely available tampons in the US and Europe used by potentially millions of people.

Lead was found in all 30 tampons tested from 14 different brands, according to the study published this week in the journal Environmental International. Lead exposure can cause neurological damage. This is the first paper to measure the concentration of metals in tampons, said Jenni Shearston, a postdoctoral scholar at the University of California Berkeley School of Public Health and the study’s lead author. 

More research is needed to see if the metals leach out of tampons. Their presence is particularly concerning given the skin of the vagina is more permeable than other areas of the body and anything absorbed into the bloodstream from there isn’t first passed through the gastrointestinal tract or filtered by the liver, according to the study’s authors. 

The products were purchased from major online retailers and stores in the US, UK and Greece. The researchers didn’t cite the brands. Shearston didn’t immediately respond to a request for the list of products.  

Major tampon brands include Tampax from Procter & Gamble Co., Kotex from Kimberly-Clark Corp. and Playtex from Edgewell Personal Care Co. The companies didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

Cotton, Rayon 

Tampons are made with cotton, rayon or a combination of the two. Researchers said it’s possible the metals were absorbed from the soil by the plants used to make the menstruation products. They could also be added in chemicals used as antimicrobials or odor control, the report said.

The study found that organic tampons contained less lead and more arsenic than non-organic ones and tampons purchased in the US had higher lead levels than those in the European Union or UK. The researchers also measured cadmium, copper, mercury and nickel, among others. 

“Our findings point towards the need for regulations requiring the testing of metals in tampons by manufacturers,” the study’s authors wrote. 

In the US, the Food and Drug Administration regulates tampons as a medical device. The agency requires tampon makers to show their products are the same as others on the market, a process which does include safety tests, though it’s unclear if that includes measuring for metals. The FDA didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. 

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