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Feminine Hygiene Products

Volume 407: debated on Tuesday 24 June 2003

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To ask the Secretary of State for Health (1) what regulations govern the materials used to make tampons and sanitary towels;[120252](2) which Government body regulates the makers of feminine hygiene products;[120253](3) what plans he has to increase the controls over the composition of feminine hygiene products.[120258]

The tampons industry is self-regulated. Since 1984, the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) and the sanitary protection industry have operated a voluntary prior notification scheme for menstrual tampons. Under the scheme, manufacturers submit to the DTI written details of any significant changes to new or current products. The notification applies to the entire manufactured product including the tampon itself. Approximately 95 per cent., of tampon manufacturers in this country are covered by this scheme. The scheme includes a code of practice, agreed with the DTI, which all the manufacturers who belong to the scheme must comply with. This covers product safety assessment of all materials used. The notification scheme is the industry's response to concerns regarding toxic shock syndrome. Under the scheme, the manufacturers submit to the Government specifications for proposed new tampons to which there have been significant changes in the designs or materials. Submissions under the scheme are evaluated by a toxicologist in the Department of Health, who determines whether they pose a health hazard and provides advice to the DTI.

To ask the Secretary of State for Health (1) what control exists over the levels of dioxins in tampons and sanitary products; [120254](2) what the maximum permitted amounts of dioxins allowed in tampons and sanitary products are; [120255](3) what the maximum annual exposure rates to dioxins consistent with no risk to health are; [120256](4) how female sanitary products are screened for the presence of dioxins; by whom; and to whom the reports are supplied. [120257]

There are no controls over the levels of dioxins in tampons and sanitary towels. Trace amounts of dioxins can be formed in cotton used in tampons and sanitary towels during bleaching processes using chlorine. The levels, if detectable, are very low and pose no risk to human health. There is evidence that some manufacturers use unbleached cotton for these products and hence exposure to dioxins in these cases does not occur.The toxicology of dioxins has been extensively reviewed by many national and international expert groups. The most recent evaluation, by the Committee on Toxicity of Food, Consumer Products and the Environment, was completed in 2001. The potential level of exposure to dioxins associated with use of bleached cotton in sanitary towels and tampons would be considerably lower that the recent tolerable daily intake set by the Committee.