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Period products shown to contain ‘forever chemicals’, new research shows

Some of our favourite period products could contain traces of ‘forever’ substances, according to a recently published study. What does this mean, and how concerned should we be?

When you think about the plight generations of women before us had to endure when it came to their periods, it’s easy to see how lucky we are. 

These days, we’re spoilt for choice when it comes to the period products available on the market. Your average supermarket has an entire aisle stocked with shelves of pads, tampons, liners, menstrual cups and period underwear. 

As consumers, we place a lot of blind trust into the brands producing these products. But a new study presented at the 2023 American Chemical Society this week has found that some brands contain traceable amounts of some pretty nasty substances.

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The study consisted of researchers analysing the concentration of fluorinated compounds in over 100 popular period products. Products containing higher amounts of the fluorinated compounds can be an indicator of potentially harmful per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). 

The results? Whether added accidentally or intentionally, some products were indeed found to contain PFAS, highlighting the concerning fact that consumers aren’t always made aware of their presence.

According to the study, PFAS substances are described as a category of over 12,000 compounds that have stick, stain, and water-resistant properties. While these are often desirable characteristics for some products, they hold the potential to be harmful in some contexts. 

Nicknamed ‘forever chemicals’, these bioaccumulative compounds don’t break down easily in our bodies or the environment. 

Dr. Sherry Ross, an OB-GYN and women’s health expert spoke of her concerns about these compounds existing in our everyday period products to Medical News Today.

“PFAS’s harmful ‘forever chemicals’ can potentially linger in the body and cause hormonal and reproductive problems, immune suppression, and potential cancer risks,” she says. “It’s hard to know whether the period products contain PFAS since it’s not listed on the ingredient list.”

So what does this mean?

This highlights two major issues, according to the study authors. Firstly, any potentially harmful substance that is coming into contact with women through period product use indicates several health concerns. But the potential for harm exists for more than just the direct product users.  

“Of course, you’re concerned for the wearer, but we’re also concerned about the ecological impact because PFAS are ‘forever chemicals,’” says the principal investigator of the project, Graham Peaslee, Ph.D. 

“Once these products are thrown away, they go to landfills and decay, releasing PFAS into groundwater. And we, or later generations, could end up inadvertently ingesting them.”

Alyssa Wicks, a graduate student under Dr Peaslee, hopes to continue the research efforts, casting a wider net to further examine more products. According to the current data, some types of products were found to contain traces more often than others. 

“In general, tampons didn’t seem to contain fluorine,” says Wicks. “Same with menstrual cups and the layers of pads that come in contact with a person’s skin.”

The products themselves weren’t the only things placed under analysis, with the study finding fluorine present in the wrappers for some pads and tampons, as well as the outer layers of certain period underwear brands.

When it comes to the wrappers and outer layers of period clothing, the researchers have deduced some brands might be using PFAS as a moisture barrier to keep the products dry, or in the case of the underwear, to keep blood from leaking onto a person’s clothing.

So, is this even legal?

You might be wondering how manufacturers are possibly allowed to produce and sell products containing such serious substances, and you probably won’t be too thrilled to hear the answer. 

Across the world, there currently are very few regulatory guidelines limiting the inclusion of PFAS in period products and textiles, meaning even brands that were found to contain high traces aren’t technically breaking any laws. 

But, as concerning as some of the findings are, the study does highlight a pretty important silver lining. Given that some products tested were found to be completely free of fluorine and PFAS, it’s clear to see the compounds simply aren’t essential. 

With further research and subsequent tightening of consumer regulations, perhaps we’ll soon see a vast reduction in traces on the market.  

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Australian sport: Almost half of Australia’s best athletes live below the poverty line

A new report claims almost half of Australia’s top athletes are earning below the poverty line. Shocking, right? Even more shocking is that these heroes‘ annual incomes come in at less than $23,000.

Australia has some of the greatest sporting talent on the planet. Our beloved Matildas stole our hearts – and earned millions of new supporters – since the FIFA Women’s World Cup this past few months, and the members of our national swimming team are household names after taking home medal after medal at the Tokyo Olympics in 2021.

But what if we told you some of our best athletes are actually earning below the poverty line?

That’s what the Australian Sports Foundation (ASF) has found, and now the organisation is urging for financial support to be thrown at our sports stars, or risk our top-tier talent throwing in the towel. 

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After surveying more than 2,300 athletes, 600 being elite, or at an international level. Two in three elite Australian athletes aged between 18 and 34 have considered quitting their sport, while one in two who hoped to compete in the 2026 Commonwealth Games have considered quitting.

43 per cent of those training for the 2032 Olympic Games in Brisbane are contemplating quitting, too. Those are our youngest athletes, which says a lot.

The athletes surveyed by the ASF were earning an average annual income of between $23,000 and $49,000. They’re appalling annual earnings given the hours of training, and the sacrifices these athletes make, but also the revenue they make for TV networks, and tourism, too. These athletes work so hard in the pool, on the track, field and court court, that the vast majority don’t have time to create other forms of income.

And the worst news? A whopping 46 per cent of the talent surveyed earned less than $23,000 a year, and more than 40 per cent were even more worse off financially than they were 12 months ago. More than one in four have also found they’ve struggling mentally in the past 12 months.

„This is the green and gold decade, with so many such events for us to look forward to, but they are nothing without the athletes,“ ASF’s chief executive Patrick Walker said.

One of our top-tier stars, Bronte Campbell told the ABC how injuries alone caused strain financially, and that winning gold – like she did – at the Olympic Games didn’t mean you were swimming in cash.

„If you win an Olympic gold medal, you get a medal bonus — which is not, as someone once asked me, a million dollars,“ the swimming champion told the news site, adding that supporting herself in the years between each Olympic Games has been tough.

„There’s definitely been years where if I hadn’t had success in the previous year, I don’t know how I would have made it work.“

These are worrying stats, and without significant change to sportspeople’s pay we’re risk of losing our best sporting stars, purely out of necessity.

Just last week the Wallaroos, Australia’s national women’s rugby union team, penned an open letter to Rugby Australia demanding more equal pay and support for their players and the team, as compared with the Wallabies who receive exponentially greater pay packets and funding. 

In the wake of the Women’s World Cup, Matildas coach Tony Gustavsson and captain Sam Kerr also called for greater funding of women’s sports teams in Australia.

After their semi-final defeat, Kerr said „I can only speak for the Matildas. We need funding in our development. We need funding in our grassroots. We need funding. We need funding everywhere.“ 

Let’s hope that this increased awareness and conversations around players‘ dismal pay and the lack of funding in many sports is the catalyst for some serious change in our sporting landscape. 

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