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Gov’t reveals sanitary pads with VOCs

Details released of brands found to contain toxic material
Sept 05,2017
The Ministry of Food and Drug Safety on Monday disclosed the sanitary pad brands and products that have been found to contain toxic materials, in an effort to prevent a consumer scare from spreading further.

In addition to Klean Nara, manufacturer of Lilian, the brand at the center of the sanitary pad scare, Yuhan-Kimberly, P&G and LG Unicharm were also churning out products that the Korean Women’s Environmental Network, a civic group, claim to be contaminated with volatile organic compounds, or VOCs. VOCs are substances that are naturally released from the product at room temperature, some of which can be harmful to the body. The three companies are known for the “Joeun Neukkim,” “Whisper,” and “Sofy” sanitary pad brands, respectively.

Back in March, the Korean Women’s Environmental Network conducted a toxic test on five sanitary pads and five panty liners from five producers with Kim Man-goo, professor of environmental chemistry at Kangwon National University in Chuncheon, Gangwon, and disclosed the results, urging health authorities to conduct an official investigation on all sanitary pads retailed in Korea.

The civic group said at the time sanitary pads from Lilian contained the largest amount of VOCs among products tested. But the network has long insisted it won’t reveal the details of other products on the grounds that the disclosure of only 10 brands when the market contains so many more would only cause confusion.

Amid escalating consumer concerns over carcinogenic sanitary pads that has gone so far as to prompt users of Lilian to file a 9 billion won ($7.97 million) class action suit, however, the ministry decided that it would make public the list of manufacturers and product names.

“It would be appropriate for the Korean Women’s Environmental Network to announce the list, but since it insisted not to, we are unveiling the documents submitted by them,” said a ministry spokesman.

“Since it is impossible to gauge whether the fact that the test results showed the sanitary products contained VOCs means they are harmful to the human body,” he said, “consumers are advised to wait for the ministry’s tests rather than be overly concerned.”

The ministry also announced that it would add 10 more experts to an independent committee launched on Aug. 30 with eight members, which has been dedicated to conducting inspections of the sanitary pads. It cited the “social impact and importance” of the sanitary pads.

The ministry went on to say it would investigate the entire 896 menstruation-related sanitary products from 56 producers - not only different types of pads, including 100 percent cotton to panty liners, but also tampons and menstrual cups - with a focus on 10 types of VOCs in the initial round of tests, and unveil the names of the producers, products, quantity of respective contaminants and their toxicity for humans by the end of this month. It will later conduct a second stage of testing looking for the remaining 76 VOCs in sanitary pads by the end of the year.

Exactly what impact VOCs have on humans remains unclear. Yuhan-Kimberly, which is the No. 1 producer by sales, claims VOCs in sanitary products have no uniform standards yet.

“VOCs can be found in air, water, vegetables and fruits we eat,” said a spokesman with the company. “What’s important is how much is going to have a significant impact on humans. We will have to wait for the government’s announcement after its inspection.”


BY SEO JI-EUN [seo.jieun@joongang.co.kr]