Glyphosate in Tampons, Oh My!

You may have seen the hilarious headlines about putting Monsanto in your vagina (if not, you’re welcome/I’m sorry). This hyperbole comes on the heels of a new study showing that the majority of cotton products tested by Argentinian researchers were found to contain glyphosate—the herbicide made by Monsanto and commercially known as Roundup. Even if you’re comfortable with farmers spraying crops with chemicals that keep away insects or competing plants, like weeds, the idea of putting that into your hooha is probably less comfortable of a thought.

The good news is that, as with most headlines, these findings have been taken out of context and probably aren’t anything to freak out about. The team of researchers from the National University of La Plata purchased personal care and feminine hygiene products from drugstores and supermarkets in Argentina. Eighty-five percent of the products they tested, including tampons, sanitary pads, sterile gauze, and cotton swabs contained glyphosate—which the World Health Organization classifies as a probable carcinogen. But, as with most things, it’s the dose that makes the poison.

According to Doctor Damián Marino, the lead on this study, the amount of glyphosate found in the cotton products is relatively small (some might say bordering on infinitesimal). “In terms of concentrations, what we saw is that in raw cotton AMPA dominates (39 parts per billion, or PPB, and 13 PPB of glyphosate), while the gauze is absent of AMPA, but contained glyphosate at 17 PPB,” said Marino.

Pretty much anything can be toxic in a high enough concentration. Heck, just this week the World Health Organization also classified red meat as a “probable cause” of cancer, just as it did with glyphosate. But that doesn’t mean that if you eat any red meat you’re probably going to get cancer and it doesn’t mean that glyphosate and meat are equal in terms of how likely they are to increase your cancer risk. It means that there is enough scientific evidence to establish a probable link between red meat and cancer in humans. If you exceed the recommended daily level of red or processed meat, you are increasing the chance that you will get cancer. Unlike food, there’s no recommended maximum level of exposure to glyphosate. However, there is a maximum contaminant levels (MCL) for drinking water—that is, how much of a contaminant may be present in the water. The EPA allows glyphosate to be present in our drinking water up to 700 parts per billion. 700 parts per billion! That 17 parts per billion found in personal care and feminine hygiene products probably doesn’t seem quite as significant now, does it?

Some might argue that the EPA’s standards are out of whack or there’s a cumulative risk with glyphosate. Both of these arguments may have merit and are worth talking about, but it’s tough to have a rational conversation about risk when people are screaming about an evil corporation trying to poison women through their vaginas.