The Tampon Scare Hoax


Stephen Barrett, M.D.
December 19, 1999
Question

I have seen e-mail messages and news reports stating that tampons are dangerous. How worried should I be?

Answer

Not at all. During the past few months, the Internet has been ablaze with allegations that tampons pose hazards to women. It is being claimed that tampons are contaminated by asbestos and dioxin during manufacture and that some contain rayon fibers that cause toxic shock syndrome (TSS). Much of the dioxin information is being generated by “Ruth B,” an anonymous woman with endometriosis who believes her problem may be related to dioxin exposure. A February 1999 television news report described her as a 34-year-old woman from Northern Wisconsin who had had seven tampons tested in 1997 and was told that they contained 0.6 trillionths of a gram of dixoxin. Amounts this small — less than 1 part per trillion — pose no health risk and are less than would be encountered from exposure to ordinary food or air.

The FDA states that these fears are unfounded:

  • Asbestos is not an ingredient or a trace contaminant in any brand of tampon manufactured in the United States
  • Tampon manufacture is considered a dioxin-free process. Although detectable levels may be present because dioxin is an environmental contaminent, the FDA has determined that these trivial amounts pose no health risk.
  • TSS is rare. Some cases are related to the use of tampons that are more absorbant than needed to control menstrual flow. Problems can be avoided by choosing the minimum absorbancy needed and using tampons only during active menstruation. Rayon-containing tampons cause no more difficulty than other types with similar absorbancy.

Despite the obvious facts, some news reports have fanned the flames and U.S. Representative Carol Maloney (D-NY) has introduced the Tampon Safety Act to “provide for research to determine the extent to which the presence of dioxin, synthetic fibers, and other additives in tampons and similar products used by women with respect to menstruation pose any risks to the health of women, including risks relating to cervical cancer, endometriosis, infertility, ovarian cancer, breast cancer, immune system deficiencies, pelvic inflammatory disease, and toxic shock syndrome, and for other purposes.” Plaintiff’s attorneys evidently like this type of Congressional support. Between April 1997 and March 1998, the American Trial Lawyers Association’s political action committee contributed $4,500 to Maloney’s campaign committee.

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This article was revised on December 19, 1999.