July 20, 2017

Right-to-know legislation is a keystone in public health policy; when people have all the information, they are empowered to make healthier choices. Tampons may include dioxins and furans, pesticide residues, and fragrance, with pads also having additional chemicals in the adhesives. Vaginal tissue is some of the most absorptive in the body, which is why these ingredients can be especially harmful. Some chemicals found in menstrual products have been linked to cancer, reproductive harm, endocrine disruption, and skin irritation. 

It was with this question top of mind that I joined a lobby day with Women's Voices for the Earth to ask for support for two pieces of legislation, one that would require a full ingredient list on menstrual hygiene products and one that would direct the National Institutes of Health to do research to determine whether chemicals used in feminine hygiene products pose health risks.   At the Maryland Environmental Health Network, we often translate public health science for legislators  to inform strong policy decisions.  We focus on promoting the elimination of environmental threats – including chemicals and the built environment – to human health.  

Fragrance is a particularly sinister ingredient. If you see "fragrance" listed on your lotions, shampoos, tampons (and now trash bags, of all things!), you should know that "fragrance" is usually a combination of chemicals that often includes phthalates, parabens, and other classes of carcinogens and endocrine disruptors. Manufacturers are not required to include these individual components under the guise of “trade secrets”. But trade secrecy and profit motivation should not supersede access to information directly impacting human health.     
 
While some companies are not using harmful ingredients and others are disclosing ingredients, we have quite a ways to go. We need more health professionals to weigh in about this important right to know. More information empowers consumers to make healthy decisions. On the Hill, I harkened back to the education I received at the University of Maryland School of Public Health Maryland Institute for Environmental Health. Professors there armed me with the tools to understand public health topics of exposure, risk, and vulnerability so I can translate those concepts for decision-makers. MdEHN is happy to support WVE and legislators who are working to educate the public about this direct threat to women's health. 

Rebecca Rehr (MPH '12) is a graduate of the University of Maryland School of Public Health Maryland Institute for Environmental Health and is now the Public Policy & Advocacy Manager at the Maryland Environmental Health Network.