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Pads, diapers are safe: government study

Preliminary results of a study conducted by the Food and Drug Safety Ministry released Thursday found that menstrual care products and diapers distributed in Korea are safe to use, with potentially toxic chemicals only found in trace amounts.

“A toxicity study on 10 highly toxic volatile organic compounds found that these VOCs were present in low levels that did not have harmful effects on the human body,” the ministry said.


The study was conducted on 666 menstrual care products and 10 diaper products sold in Korea since 2014. According to the results, all pads and panty liners showed high margins of safety, from 6 to 12,854. The margin of safety divides a reference dose of a toxin by the systemic exposure expected from using a product. Factors over 1 are considered safe for the human body. 

The 10 VOCs studied were ethylbenzene, styrene, chloroform, trichloroethylene, methylene chloride, benzene, toluene, xylene, hexane and tetrachloroethylene.

Levels of these VOCs were lower in diapers than in sanitary products.
The ministry said that results regarding 74 other VOCs to be studied may be released by the end of the year, and test results for all other chemicals including pesticides are to be released in May.

The government is studying levels of chemicals found in menstrual care and diaper products after public controversy over allegations that toxicity in sanitary pads had led to adverse health effects, such as changes in menstrual cycles, in some women. 

Five companies that produce menstrual care products and diapers in Korea -- P&G, Yuhan-Kimberly, Kleannara, Welcron Healthcare and LG-Unicharm -- released a collective statement Thursday expressing “relief” at the Food Safety Ministry’s results and promising to increase cooperation in the future to set safety standards for menstrual care products.

For now, without any set standards regarding safety in menstrual care products in Korea, the five companies said they will follow the KATri Eco-Quality Standard 1000:2016, which is a safety standard for fiber products.

Ecofem, the women‘s rights group that first commissioned a study on VOCs in sanitary products that led to the public outcry, said Thursday that the Food Safety Ministry’s announcement was “premature” because it included results for only a small number of compounds.

For example, the preliminary results did not include results on dioxins, which are often the focus of reports overseas on the potential toxicity of menstrual care products. 

“It is difficult to compare the results of the government study against our own internal studies because the testing methodology was very different,” said a spokesperson with one of the manufacturers. “However, we have been informed that the tests were conducted under rigorous assumptions, and that the VOC levels were very safe.”

The Food Safety Ministry plans to also conduct a study to determine the relationship between the chemicals present in sanitary pads and effects on women’s health.

By Won Ho-jung (