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VOCs in sanitary pads negligible, gov’t says

Dec 29,2017
The Ministry of Food and Drug Safety concluded Thursday that Korean-made sanitary pads are safe to use after test results showed the amount of volatile organic compounds contained in the products was too negligible to cause harmful effects to the body.

“We evaluated the possible risk of 74 VOCs in Korean-made sanitary pads and found that their amount does not cause harm to the human body,” the ministry said in a statement.

A total of 666 sanitary pad and panty liner products manufactured in Korea since 2014 were examined.

The government had already said the pads were safe to use in late September when it released test results on 10 VOCs thought to be most toxic, including benzene and chloroform.

Results showed that although the menstrual products did contain the compounds, the level was too low to consider them hazardous.

In both experiments, the ministry measured the amount of VOCs that might be absorbed by the body if a user wears 7.5 pads daily for seven days each month in a lifetime.

The ministry then examined whether the released volume reaches a level to pose health risks. For all 84 VOCs, the finding reached was no.

In a second round of tests, the ministry examined whether Korea’s 10 best-selling pads and 13 tampons contained other harmful substances like pesticides and acrylic acid.

The ministry found there were no pesticides, and the acrylic acid content was within the limit of safe.

A total of 370 disposable diapers were also tested for the 10 most hazardous VOCs. Similarly, the amount of released VOC was found to be too low to pose health risks.

VOCs are chemical substances naturally released from a product at room temperature. A research paper released by a civic group in March first mentioned the existence of VOCs in locally sold sanitary pads and panty liners.

At the time of the paper’s release, the term VOC was little known to the public besides the fact that some of them might be harmful to the human body. Online product reviews complained of aggravated cramps and menstrual pattern changes after using pads from a brand called Lilian, which was found to contain the largest amount of VOCs.

The ministry added Thursday that a joint investigation with other environment and disease-related state offices was underway to further evaluate the effect that sanitary pads might have on the human body.

One plan the team has for next year is to conduct an experiment on whether sanitary pads contain phthalate and dioxin, both chemical substances known to be toxic.

The Korean Women’s Environmental Network, the group that first raised the issue earlier this year, reacted to the government report Thursday, saying it was too early to conclude that Korean-made sanitary pads were completely harmless.

They are awaiting results from the ministry’s ongoing investigation of the comprehensive health effect of sanitary pads, including how the substances react when combined together.

BY SONG KYOUNG-SON [song.kyoungson@joongang.co.kr]