South Korea's Ministry of Food and Drug Safety says it will form a committee immediately to conduct risk assessments on sanitary pads on the market, according to a report in Chemical Watch. The 'investigation' team will include risk assessment and toxicology specialists. The ministry intends to assess almost 900 products from 56 companies—671 from domestic manufacturers and 225 imports—and that this will be a "complete survey" of every sanitary pad product in the market.
It says initial testing for 10 higher risk substances will be complete by the end of September and for a further 76 substances by the end of the year.
The ministry's decision to conduct the assessments follows the March publication of tests for toxic substance emissions by the NGO Korea Women’s Environmental Network (KWEN). The tests, begun in October 2016, were applied to best selling sanitary pads and sought the presence of carcinogenic, reprotoxic substances and skin irritants in the form of 22 volatile organic compounds (VOCs).
KWEN tested 10 menstruation pads and found that all contained toxic substances in varying quantities. All 22 VOCs were found in one product or another.
The ministry, however, has been critical of KWEN’s tests. It argues that the presence of dangerous compounds does not prove an actual effect on human health. Risk assessment is required to do this, it says.
KWEN's initiative was inspired by the US-based campaign group Women's Voices for the Earth, which produced a report on VOCs emission tests on P&G sanitary pads in 2014. The South Korean NGO tested products from a number of manufacturers including Yuhan-Kimberly, P&G, LG Unicharm and several domestic producers.
In August, following KWEN's report, consumers in various online groups began preparing a class action lawsuit. However, a statement from Yuhan-Kimberly, a joint venture with Kimberly-Clark, echoes the ministry's argument that the NGO's test results are not exhaustive and do not prove their products are hazardous to human health. It also notes that the VOCs in their products comply with both domestic and international safety standards.
At the same time domestic manufacturer, Kleannara, halted all production of its sanitary pads and apologised for causing public concern. It said it will give consumers a refund on its products, even if the MFDS testing shows no connection between their products and ill health.
The ministry will publish its risk assessment results on VOC emissions for each product.