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Friday September 1, 2000

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Stained white

By Laura Helm

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, and fool me twice. American manufacturers, despite evidence of the damage that chemicals applied to feminine hygiene products can cause, have refused to heed the cries for safety and regulation. There can be no personal blame held in this issue. Under the nose of the FDA, big businesses blatantly disrespect their consumers. It is time for the sanitary product manufacturers to come clean.

Chemicals used in the production of non-organic sanitary products are omitted from the lists of ingredients on the box. Companies say the chemicals they use are harmless. Yet, studies done in Sweden have shown a link between tampons that contain dioxin and the increase in cancers of the female reproductive tract.

HR 2900 or "The Women's Health and Dioxin Act" makes a different claim. It says that "Internal documents of the Food and Drug Administration suggest the agency has not adequately investigated the danger of dioxin in tampons." Under this bill, the National Institute of Health is required to "provide research to determine the extent to which the presence of dioxin in tampons poses any health risks to women." It even specifically calls for extensive research on the "risks relating to cervical cancer." One year later, the bill was followed by the "Tampon Safety and Research Act." The existence of legislation against these products is scary, considering the first bill was put into action four years ago. Little mention of them has been made, too little.

Capitalistic production is based on profits, not on customer health. Sales are now motivated by the illusion provided by the term "advanced," and pretty packaging adds the final touches to facades. Power and water plants are infamous for income-protective trickery. Motivated by earnings, information about the toxins used or emitted has been hidden on a calculated level. These facts are of no surprise to us now. However, when revealed, they shocked America. The most basic elements of daily life can prove to be the most harmful.

Giants of the sanitary product world set the standards of production, not the customers. The paper, cotton and synthetic rayon used in toilet paper, diapers, tampons and menstrual pads are bleached using chlorine. The bleaching allows the mixture of natural and synthetic fibers to have the same pristine whiteness, the color of purity. White denotes cleanliness, and consumers have come to trust white.

A byproduct of chlorine is dioxin, a known cancer-causing chemical. These products come into direct contact with internal organs and very sensitive, susceptible areas. Companies use shady marketing tools, by not revealing possible risk factors. When a product is presented with no warning we assume that there is no risk.

Another bill was introduced in 1995 to require the California State Department of Health services to place a warning on sanitary pads and tampons. The warning would read "Use of the product will expose you to dioxin, known to cause cancer and birth defects." The legislation said that women have the right to not place themselves at risk. Proctor and Gamble, owners of Tampax, used their influence to put down the bill. P&G is the same company that had to remove its "Rely" tampons from the shelf in 1980.

American consumers should not wait for the bureaucrats to roll the dice on Proctor and Gamble and their industry peers. The FDA has declared products as harmful after mass distribution many times. The EPA has declared chemicals as more toxic than previously suspected after their use in tap water. People should not have to be guinea pigs. Thanks to the much smaller organic market, one does have the option to err on the side of safety.

It is obvious that consumers cannot continue to expect industry standards to reflect their own. As long as producers insist on marketing illusion rather than quality, consumers must insist on setting their own standards. The white roll of toilet paper is prettier than the unbleached competition. Going to those healthy supermarkets might be out of the way. Super-Absorbent powder fresh rayon cotton blend could sound better than medical grade un-bleached cotton. Assert the right to choose.

Laura Helm is a English senior. She can be reached at

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