[Op-Ed] Right to Have Safe Periods
Through the current Lilian sanitary pad issue
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"Hey, do you have it?" "What?" "The thing, you know." "Oh, that thing. I have some." This conversation is likely to happen not only between illegal drug dealers but also ordinary women referring to feminine hygiene products. Mentioning about women's cycle or products related to it has been considered as not careful or virtuous. However recently, many women along with men are voicing out for the right to have ‘safe menstruation' after the fact that one of the best-selling sanitary pad contains toxins was revealed in March.
Volatile Organic Compounds found in sanitary pads
In the safety test conducted by Korean Women's Environmental Networks and Professor Kim Man-koo of Kangwon National University, 10 types sanitary napkins and panty liners were found to have more than 200 Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs), including benzene, styrene, and Trichloroethylene. VOCs are organic compounds that can easily become vapors or gases. Not all VOCs are harmful, but some are known to cause cancer or sensory irritation. One of the toxins found in the pads, Styrene, is classified as a carcinogen by World Health Organization and a widely known reproductive toxicant, which can affect the menstrual cycle and volume.
Kim later unveiled that three items among the 10 are Kleannara's Lilian pads and panty liners. This made the public outrageous, requesting a full refund of the products. Kleannara initially denied the credibility of the test and announced that Lilian pads are authorized by the Ministry of Food and Drug Safety, therefore safe to use. Nevertheless, after being included in the list of investigation of the Ministry of Food and Drug Safety, Kleannara decided to refund the problematic items on the 23rd. As the complaints grew steadily, the company also announced to fully stop the production and sales of Lilian products in the following day.
Should manufacturers disclose full ingredients of feminine products?
One of the main controversies around the current situation is whether consumers have a right to know the full detail of what makes menstrual products. Existing law does not require the manufacturers to fully disclose the components because the products are classified as sanitary aid. A revised pharmaceutical affairs act was passed last December to reveal all ingredients of sanitary aids in its package or bottle. However, sanitary pad, tampon, mask, and bandage were excluded from the revision because the products are not directly absorbed into the human body.
Many feel that the current legal system did not reflect the reality so well, as the outer vulva of female genital is vulnerable to contaminants and moist, being able to absorb some substances if regularly affected. Another revision that mandates feminine hygiene products is proposed in July, waiting to be passed in the National Assembly. I feel like this amendment being passed is not going to be the end of the story. Even if the sanitary products come with the full ingredient, it would be hard for the consumers to tell which product contains toxin or not. Also, the toxin standards of the Ministry of Food and Drug Safety has been left not updated for the past two decades. The chemicals in the center of the issue are not listed as toxic chemicals and have no standard whatsoever. This means that Lilian pads and other products in veil could still pass the safety test if the list is not going to be updated soon.
Panty liners are also in the middle of controversies as some liners are not even classified as menstrual products. They are industrial products, and Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy is liable for its credentials. Panty liners, in this case, are not required to pass any specific test to be sold in the market. Some even say ‘do not use this product to absorb menstrual blood', which makes less sense.
Through the tragedy of toxic humidifier, the recent egg issues, and the present-day toxic feminine products, the life of Koreans are constantly in threat through the use of daily products. Although almost half of the nation's safety was and is being threatened, the size of the issue seems to be smaller than usual. Is the social atmosphere hushing on ‘magic' to blame? Or is it just we who are used to hearing such news about toxic daily items? I guess we have to wait and see.
Kim So-yun firstname.lastname@example.org
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