Researchers found that tampons contain toxic metals like lead and arsenic

(Bloomberg) — Researchers found more than a dozen metals, including lead and arsenic, in tampons widely available in the U.S. and Europe that are potentially used by millions of people.

Lead was found in 30 tampons from 14 different brands, according to the study published this week in the journal Environment International. Exposure to lead can cause neurological damage. Jenny Shearston, a postdoctoral scholar at the University of California Berkeley School of Public Health and lead author of the study, said this is the first paper to measure the concentration of metals in tampons.

More research is needed to see whether metals leach out of tampons. According to the study authors, their presence is particularly worrisome because vaginal skin is more permeable than other areas of the body and anything absorbed into the bloodstream from there has not first passed through the gastrointestinal tract or been filtered by the liver.

The products were purchased from major online retailers and stores in the US, UK and Greece. The researchers did not specify the brands. Shearston did not immediately respond to a request for a list of the products.

Major tampon brands include Procter & Gamble Co.'s Tampax, Kimberly-Clark Corp.'s Kotex and Edgewell Personal Care Co.'s Playtex. The companies did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

cotton, rayon

Tampons are made from cotton, rayon or a combination of both. The researchers said it's possible that the metals were absorbed from the soil by plants used to make menstrual products. They may also be added to chemicals used as antimicrobials or odor control, the report said.

The study found that organic tampons contained less lead and more arsenic than non-organic tampons, and that tampons purchased in the US had higher levels of lead than tampons purchased in the EU or UK. The researchers also measured cadmium, copper, mercury and nickel.

“Our findings point to the need for regulations requiring manufacturers to test for metals in tampons,” the study authors wrote.

In the US, the Food and Drug Administration regulates tampons as a medical device. The agency requires tampon manufacturers to show that their products are the same as others on the market, a process that includes safety testing, though it is unclear whether this includes measuring metals. The FDA did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

–With assistance from Lily Meyer.

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