Sanitary Pads Sold in India Linked to Cancer: Report

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High amounts of chemicals linked with heart disorders, diabetes and cancer, have been found in popular sanitary napkins sold in India, according to a study done by a Delhi-based environmental NGO.

The study by NGO, Toxics Link, found the presence of phthalates and volatile organic compounds in a total of ten samples, six inorganic and four organic sanitary pads available in the market. The findings were published in a report titled 'Menstrual Waste 2022'.


Exposure to phthalates have been linked to a variety of health concerns including endocrine disruption, impacts to the heart and reproductive systems, diabetes, some cancers, and birth defects. Exposure to VOCs increases the risk of brain impairment, asthma, disabilities, certain cancers, and the proper functioning of the reproductive system.

Highest amounts of phthalates were found in self-proclaimed 'organic' sanitary napkins, the study found. According to the study, all types of sanitary napkins, organic and inorganic, tested positive for the presence of phthalates.

Exposure to chemicals through sanitary pads is also of critical concern because of the exposure route site, i.e. vaginal area, and the long-term exposure period. As a mucous membrane, the vagina is capable of secreting and absorbing fluids at a higher rate than skin.

Emphasising that menstruators deserve access to safe menstrual products in the market and have the right to know what they are exposed to, the study made some recommendations in that regard.

  • Firstly, the study recommends a thorough investigation into the presence and potential impact of VOCs and phthalates in menstrual products to the menstruators. 
  • Secondly, government and standards making bodies should be framing standards for chemicals in sanitary products.
  • Thirdly, it should be mandatory for producers to disclose the list of product ingredients. 
  • Fourthly, responsible advertising to ensure producers provide relevant information and adequate warnings on the product.
  • Finally, the study recommends regulations and schemes to promote substitution or reduction in the use of these chemicals in the products.


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