Read the full article by Pandora Dewan (Newsweek)

“Researchers have found toxic ‘forever’ chemicals in menstrual products, but it’s not just people who menstruate who could be affected.

PFAS (per- and polyfluorinated alkyl substances) are a class of chemicals that can be found in a range of everyday products. According to the U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, PFAS can lead to increased blood cholesterol and blood pressure, reduced immunity and an increased risk of certain cancers.

‘[PFAS] have demonstrated environmental persistence, can bioaccumulate, and are known to have human and environmental toxicity,’ research lead Graham Peaslee, a professor at the University of Notre Dame, told Newsweek. ‘They are referred to as the “forever” chemicals because of their persistence in environmental systems, and the threat to human health this represents.

‘There are over 200 known industrial and commercial uses of PFAS so far. It has recently been found in paper products (packaging and even toilet paper), plastics (packaging and films), cosmetics, uniforms, water-resistant textiles, carpets, tents and umbrellas, and even dental tape,’ Peaslee said.

In a recent study, Peaslee and Alyssa Wicks, a graduate student in Peaslee’s lab, analyzed over 100 period products for these potentially toxic compounds.

‘The highest PFAS content was seen in a subset of the menstrual underwear products we analyzed,’ Peaslee said. ‘There were also a few reusable pads, disposable pads and incontinence underwear samples that had total F levels high enough to indicate PFAS was intentionally added. Some of the plastic wrappers and applicators for pads and tampons were also of concern.’

However, Wicks said that not all products contained PFAS.

‘In general, tampons didn’t seem to contain fluorine,’ she said in a statement. ‘Same with menstrual cups and the layers of pads that come in contact with a person’s skin.’

Wicks will be presenting the results from this study at the fall meeting of the American Chemical Society on August 13.

PFAS exposure from these products comes in two forms and does not only impact the wearer. ‘One is direct dermal sorption [through the skin], and the second is indirect exposure when PFAS are released from these products when they are discarded,’ Peaslee said.

So far, we do not know how well PFAS are absorbed through the skin. However, we do know that these chemicals find other ways into the human body.

‘One hundred percent of these chemicals are released when the items treated with them are discarded after use,’ Peaslee said. ‘In this country, almost all products end up in the landfill, and aerobic and anaerobic digestion will occur to release all these PFAS into the leachate, which will then enter the groundwater supply.

‘These PFAS are persistent—which means they will travel into irrigation water and drinking water sources and end up being a source of contamination for all humans, not just the users/wearers.’

In fact, there is already evidence for widespread human consumption of these compounds.

‘There is significant evidence that PFAS are already in the blood of everybody in North America—as evidenced in the NHANES (National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey) studies of blood samples over the past 20 years,’ Peaslee said. ‘The source of the PFAS in our blood is unknown but is thought to be mostly related to drinking water and diet, where just a small exposure can lead to a significant build-up in humans.’

The problem is that people are purchasing these products without realizing it. And, as it stands, there is not a lot the public can do to find out if they contain these chemicals.

‘Unfortunately, without any proper labeling requirement for any of these products, consumers will not be able to discern where PFAS are used,’ Peaslee said. ‘Our hope is that studies like this one will encourage manufacturers to confirm their supply chains are free of PFAS use and to start adding “no intentional PFAS used” to their labels as a first step.’”