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Arsenic, lead and other toxic metals detected in tampons, study finds

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More than a dozen metals — including lead and arsenic — showed up in a broad array of tampons sold across the U.S. and Europe, raising concerns about menstruation products used by millions, a recent study found.  

Tests found lead in all 30 tampons from 14 brands that were purchased from major online retailers and stores in the U.S., U.K. and Greece, according to the findings published this week in the journal Environmental International. 

"Our findings point towards the need for regulations requiring the testing of metals in tampons by manufacturers," the researchers wrote. 

The analysis looked for concentrations of arsenic, barium, calcium, cadmium, cobalt, chromium, copper, iron, manganese, mercury, nickel, lead, selenium, strontium, vanadium and zinc. All 16 metals were detected in one product.  

Further studies are necessary to determine whether the metals leach out of tampons, which would be particularly worrisome since the skin of the vagina is more permeable than other parts of the body, noted the researchers, led by Jenni Shearston, a postdoctoral scholar at the University of California Berkeley School of Public Health. Any substance entering the bloodstream from the vagina also would not be filtered by the liver, the researchers said.

The findings did not cite the brands tested. Shearston said she was not able to provide a list of the brands tested.

Organic tampons had less lead and more arsenic than non-organic ones and those sold in the U.S. held higher concentrations of lead than those in the Europe, the study stated. 

Well-known tampon brands include Procter & Gamble's Tampax, Kimberly-Clark's Kotex and Playtex from Edgewell Personal Care. The three companies did not respond to requests for comment. 

Tampons are made with cotton, rayon or both, and the study noted that that the metals could have came from the soil by the plants used to make the materials. The presence of metals could also be the result of chemicals used as antimicrobials or to control odor. 

"We cannot yet say that people should not be using tampons. So far what we know is that metals are present in all the samples we tested. However, we do not know yet if metals leach out of the tampon and whether they are absorbed by the body. We therefore cannot yet assess to what extent (if any) metals in tampons contribute to any health problems," Shearston told CBS MoneyWatch. "Our research emphasizes the need for more testing of toxic compounds in products we use daily and better labeling so users can make more informed decisions."

The Food and Drug Administration, which regulates tampons in the U.S., told CBS MoneyWatch that it is reviewing the findings, but noted that all studies have limitations. 

"While the chemical method used indicates these metals are present in the tampons tested in the laboratory, the study does not assess whether any metals are released from tampons when used in the body. It also does not address whether any metal, if released, can be absorbed into the vaginal lining or, subsequently into the bloodstream," a spokesperson for the agency stated. "We plan to evaluate the study closely and take any action warranted to safeguard the health of consumers who use these products."

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