By Susie Hewson – Founder of Natracare
I have been a revolutionary warrior since 1989. Outraged by the lack of concern and growing evidence about the risks of synthetics and toxic residuals on women’s health.
I started my global campaign, as with all good BLOODY revolutions, because I got ANGRY. I started to raise awareness about these undisclosed issues which the proprietary tampon industry thought were unimportant and invisible to women. I spoke out about dioxin residuals in tampons which were all produced using chlorine bleached, synthetic viscose rayon – occasionally mixed up with a few percent of GMO, heavily pesticide sprayed, conventionally-grown cotton.
I felt that my voice could help to make women think seriously about what they were buying and using, and wanted to educate them on the risks of using tampons made from viscose/rayon with respect to dioxin, organochlorines, fragrances, lubricants, plastics and azo dyes, compared to Natracare’s organic 100% cotton tampons.
In the years before the internet, shared campaigning groups helped me to amplify my message, such as the Women’s Environmental Network and Greenpeace. First to get informational web pages up on the internet in the mid 1990’s, Natracare was communicating our campaigning message to anyone who could receive it and whoever was willing to pass it on!
Natracare was able to be included in ground-breaking research, conducted by Dr Tierno of New York University Medical School, into the impact on TSS of different fibre types used to make tampons. As the only 100% cotton tampon being produced anywhere in the world, Natracare was the only 100% cotton tampon included in the peer-reviewed and published research in which Natracare came out as the safest option to reduce the risk for TSS – the rest is history. Corporate lawyers representing the major brands of tampons, as well as their industry body, made up their own campaign to assault my integrity and attempted to discredit my Natracare brand by a bombardment of harassment and damage limitation press releases. I imagine they were intent on shutting me up and closing me down but as a revolutionary pioneer who was also very angry at the industry, and concerned for my Sisters using their products, my outspoken truths about carcinogenic dioxin in tampons and their future impact on women’s health and our environment continue to this day – relentlessly.
I was soon not to be alone in this quest. After the research published in July 1994 by Philip Tierno and Bruce Hana (Propensity of Tampons and Barrier Contraceptives to Amplify Staphylococcus Aureus Toxic Shock Syndrome Toxin 1), I was contacted by Karen Houppert of the Village Voice for an article which was to be published Feb 7th, 1995 called “Pulling the Plug on the Sanitary Protection Industry” which headlined on the front cover as “Embarrassed to Death, the hidden dangers of the Tampon Industry”. The article exposed that in the USA, there was no reliable government oversight, failing to regulate organochlorines (chlorine bleaching releases dioxin, which is a member of this family of chemicals – as is Agent Orange!)
Even way back in 1994, we were calling for ingredients to be listed on feminine hygiene packaging, just as shampoo ingredients were required to declared, yet there wasn’t, and still is not, a comparable requirement for tampons or pads – despite the fact that they are held for hours in one of the most porous and absorbent parts of a woman’s body.
In a hopeful attempt to address the US “government oversight”, Carolyn B Maloney introduced the “Tampon Safety and Research Act of 1997” on November 11th 1997, where she also referred to the 1994 EPA report on dioxin as a known animal cancer-causing agent as well as a probable carcinogen in humans. In 1996, an EPA study also linked dioxin exposure with increased risk for endometriosis, suppression of the immune system, increased risk for pelvic inflammatory disease, reduced fertility and possible interference with normal foetal and childhood development. The FDA concluded “the most effective risk management strategy would be to assure that tampons, and menstrual pads for good measure, contain no dioxin”. In Rep Maloney’s press release 105th/1997-11-11 Tampon Act, she goes on to reference Tierno’s research having shown that synthetic fibre additives in tampons amplify toxins associated with TSS.
In 1992, the late Rep Ted Weiss of New York had brought up the issues later reference by Rep Maloney, in a subcommittee hearing of the Committee on Government Operations after his staff uncovered internal FDA documents which suggested the agency had not adequately investigated the danger of dioxin in tampons. Congresswoman Maloney’s bill intended to direct the National Institute of Health to conduct independent research into the impact of these materials and residuals and the health risks posed to women rather than depend on research funded by tampon manufacturers.
The industry went on the attack and did what it always did, damage limitation with biased press releases sent to major women’s publications, which Congress woman Maloney reproached for not reporting the actual facts of the risks.
On June 1st 2000, Natracare received an update from Rep Maloney along with a copy of her letter sent to the Commissioner of the FDA, Dr Jane Henney, on May 17th 2000, expressing her concerns about the EPA reports, carried on the front page of the Washington Post, definitely linking dioxin to cancer – identifying a risk ten times as high as previous projections and confirming Dioxin as a human carcinogen with a lifetime cumulative danger to health. Carolyn Maloney asked the National Institute of Health to request research on tampon safety in the “Tampon Safety and Research Act 1999” updated. Rep Maloney also introduced The Robin Danielson Act (H.R. 889) directing the Centre for Disease Control to establish a program for collecting data on the number of TSS cases.
Seventeen years later, on May 5th 2017, Rep Carolyn Maloney has finally got her Act referred to the Subcommittee on Health to establish a program of research regarding the risks posed by the presence of dioxin, synthetic fibres, chemical fragrances, and other components of feminine hygiene products.
In short, but in what seems like a historical period, I have spent getting on for 30 years speaking out about the impact of Dioxin, synthetics, dyes, fragrances and lubricants being used in feminine hygiene on the health of women and our environment. Rep Carolyn Maloney has spent almost 20 years trying to correct a “government oversight” and here we are, Natracare started the revolution, carried out three decades of campaigning and educating women over the noise of the irresponsible marketing and denial statements of the corporate brands. The disrupter, that is Natracare, stood true and fast to the cause and as the pioneering, campaigning brand, Natracare stands defiant against an institutional disregard for, what to me back in 1989, was blindingly obvious.