Thursday, November 26, 2009

Safety First - Period

I don't think that this topic receives enough coverage, so here you go ...

Ladies, please consider bagging the disposable menstrual products made from crude oil and rayon.

Personal Health Reasons:

Most commercial brands of menstrual products have undergone a bleaching process that utilizes the bleach chlorine dioxide. As a result, the menstrual products contain low-level dioxins, which the EPA has deemed unsafe for humans.

In animal studies, dioxins have caused nerve damage, birth defects, increased rates of miscarriages and changes to the immune system. The EPA lists dioxins as a probable carcinogen (causes cancer.)

For example, synthetic tampons that have undergone the bleaching process may contribute to endometriosis, cancer, immune system suppression, uterine fibroids, pelvic inflammatory disease, and reduced fertility.

The products are also usually made with synthetic fibers like viscous rayon. This could increase your risk of contracting TSS (toxic shock syndrome) - a bacterial illness.

Some of these products also contain fragrances that could irritate your body, or paraben preservatives which could cause cancer.

Since vaginal tissue is extremely absorptive, it's easy for chemicals and synthetic fragrances to be absorbed into your body.

Here are some additional details --

Environmental Reasons:

Plastic tampon applicators, and all of the plastic packaging that comes along with your maxi pads, winds up in landfills and the oceans.

Earlier this year, a Canadian city's sewage treatment plant became badly backed up, and had to be shut down. Cit officials had to remove several of the plant's filters because they were clogged up with a large number of plastic tampon applicators that women had flushed down the city's toilets. As a result of the plant's problems, the tampon applicators are washing up along the Atlantic Coast.

Resident Cindy Schultz reported this about her local Point Pleasant Park: "I'm here twice a day with my dogs and you cannot walk two feet on the beach without seeing at least a dozen [plastic tampon applicators] at your feet. And it's disgusting."

Every year, women dispose of billions of plastic laden pads and liners. Most of these pads are made from over 90% crude oil plastic! YIKES. It can't be good for that stuff to be so close to your body, either.

So What To Do About It?

Try disposable products made from organic cotton. The ones most stores seem to carry are Natracare's chlorine, dye and fragrance-free disposable (and biodegradable) tampons and pads, which are made from 100% certified organic cotton. I think I've even seen these at Trader Joe's.

You could also check out GladRag's reusable cloth pads. I stumbled upon the company's booth at the 2008 Green Festival; they have an extensive and reasonably priced product line. Competitors are Party In My Pants and Lunapads.

The environmental news website Grist did maxi pad product reviews and comparisons here, and tampons and menstrual cups, here.

Then of course there's always Do It Yourself options!

While we are on the subject of menstruation, check this out.

According to UNICEF, 10% of school-age African girls miss school because of a lack of access to affordable sanitary products.

In Rwanda, it’s much worse. According to on-the-ground research by Sustainable Health Enterprises (SHE), half the girls are missing school due to menstruation and the main reason given is that sanitary pads are too expensive.

For women, 24% miss work - up to 45 days per year - for the same reason.

This not only limits girls’ educational and women’s professional achievement, but leads to a significant economic loss for nations. SHE estimates that a lack of affordable sanitary pads reduces GDP by $115 million per year in Rwanda alone.

To learn more about this problem, check out this March 2008 story "When a Period ends more than a Sentence."

I first became aware of this problem in 2007 when Procter & Gamble aired this commercial.

At the time, I thought this campaign was great. But today, I found a few that are even better! (And in line with the health and environmental messages I relayed above.)

Check this out!

To learn more about this nonprofit, check out their website. Specifically, check out this blog post that talks about the nonprofit's work with the company Lunapads.

You can follow imagine1day on Facebook here or on Twitter here.

Also check out this amazing nonprofit Afri-Pads that empowers girls in Uganda by providing them with reusable fabric menstrual pads. It was founded by three Millennials who are alums of McGill University. They work with young tailors in Uganda.

photo: Afri-Pads tailors at work!

It looks like this nonprofit was conceptualized by Carrie-Jane Williams, the team member based outside of Uganda, when she was doing a placement abroad as part of her masters program. This is taken from her (now outdated) blog, in a post she wrote before she left for Uganda in September 2008:

The purpose of my trip to Uganda is two-fold.

The main reason I’m going is to do a volunteer teaching placement. I’ll be in a rural village in the Masaka District. Sans electricity. Sans running water. It’s definitely going to be an adventure!! Although the main language of the district is Luganda (Lu = language, so Ganda language), English is still the language of instruction, even now in postcolonial times. I’ll be teaching high school girls and likely will have some time in the primary school as well.

When I found out that the Language and Literacy Department at UBC (and a bunch of profs in the dept.) were strongly linked to the community, its schools, and its library through previous research, I decided to hop on the research train myself. My master’s research will be on digital literacies in rural libraries, specifically focusing on the e-granary, which contains upwards of 10 000 000 texts! (Much more info to come!)

A side project that I’ll be working on with Dr. Shelley Jones and Mr. Dan Ahimbisibwe involves tackling the issue of menstruation as a barrier to girls’ education in rural Africa. Because of a lack of access to effective hygiene products and sanitation facilities, girls in Uganda miss up to a week of school per month while they’re on their periods!! We’re hoping to introduce reusable cloth pads to the girls and a wonderful Vancouver based company called Lunapads will be helping us out. Stay tuned for more information – it’ll be exciting!!

The organization is managed in Uganda by the other 2 members of the nonprofit, the young couple Pauls Grinvalds and Sonia Klumpp. You can read more about them and how they got their start in Uganda here.

Here are two reports on how things were going - the first one is very early on, and the second is more recent.

You can follow Afri-Pads on Facebook, here.


  1. Nicole, thanks so much for bringing attention to the seriousness of menstrual-related absenteeism in Africa. It may not ring alarm bells the way epidemics or say, famines do, but the lack of affordable menstrual products in developing countries is a huge obstacle to education that impacts millions of girls every year.

    Afri-Pads is working hard in Uganda to provide schoolgirls with a low-cost, high-quality solution to this challenge. Afri-Pads Menstrual Kits are washable (and therefore, reusable!) cloth sanitary pads that provide girls with an effective menstrual product and the confidence to attend school, no matter what time of the month!

    If you or someone you know would like to help a Ugandan schoolgirl overcome this challenge, please donate an Afri-Pads Menstrual Kit for only $5 at:

    Thanks for your concern!

    Sophia Klumpp
    Afri-Pads co-founder

  2. Thanks for the comment and info about donations, Sophia! Thanks, too, for all of the great work that you are doing :)


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