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Arsenic and lead among toxic metals in tampons, study finds

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A range of toxic metals, including arsenic and lead, have been detected in widely used tampons that could increase the risk of adverse health effects among users, according to a new study by the University of California, Berkeley.

Researchers purchased tampons between September 2022 and March 2023 from stores in New York City, Athens, and London and from two popular online retailers. They tested 30 tampons (made of cotton, rayon, viscose, or a blend of these materials) across 14 brands and 18 product lines, and found all 16 types of metal they were testing for in each product.

“To our knowledge, our study is the first to assess metal concentrations in tampons, despite the potential for substantial vaginal absorption of metals and the widespread and frequent use of tampons among menstruating women,” the study authors wrote.

An estimated 52 to 86 percent of menstruating Americans use tampons. There is no “safe” level for any of the metals analyzed by the researchers, according to the study.

Toxic metals are particularly dangerous if they come into direct contact with the vagina, where they are more easily absorbed. Chronic absorption of metals has been linked to an increased risk of dementia, cancer, infertility, and other health problems.

The level of metal detected in each tampon varied depending on whether they were sold in the US, UK or EU. There were also variations in metal levels depending on whether the tampons were organic or non-organic.

The authors wrote that some metals may be more “abundant” in organic cotton tampons due to the use of fertilizers prevalent in the soil of organic cotton fields.

Tampons are regulated for product safety in the US, UK and EU, but existing regulations do not require chemical testing in these jurisdictions.

The study notes that more research is needed to replicate its findings. The researchers also acknowledged some limitations of the study, including that metal absorption was not tested and “therefore, we cannot estimate the health risks (if any) from tampon use.”

“I really hope that manufacturers will be required to test their products for metals, especially toxic metals,” Jenni Shearston, lead author of the study, told Sky News.


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