By Sean Zucker –
Thinx, a feminine hygiene company, recently settled a lawsuit over substances found in its period underwear. Specifically, plaintiffs claimed that the product contained PFAS, a possible carcinogen. But what exactly are PFAS, how did they potentially end up in underwear, and what kind of health danger do they present? All great questions.
The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) explains that per and poly-fluoroalkyl substances, aka PFAS, cover a diverse group of human-made chemicals used in a wide range of consumer and industrial products. Despite their wide use, PFAS can be harmful when exposed to humans because the FDA reports they do not easily break down. It can result in hormone disruption, developmental effects and many cancers, as well as environmental issues. However, it is difficult to assess the degree of PFAS dangers because there are so many PFA chemicals, actually thousands. It is a challenge to fully study them all.
The class-action lawsuit against Thinx disagreed when it declared that third-party testing on the brand’s underwear discovered the presence of these chemicals in the garments. These findings conflicted with Thinx’s marketing messages, which maintained its products were a safer and more sustainable approach to menstrual hygiene.
“Through its uniform, widespread, nationwide advertising campaign, [Thinx] has led consumers to believe that Thinx Underwear is a safe, healthy and sustainable choice for women and that it is free of harmful chemicals,” the complaint states. “Thinx Underwear contains harmful chemicals… which are a safety hazard to the female body and the environment.”
Following the settlement, The New York Times reported that Thinx denied any wrongdoing. The company claimed that “PFAS has never been part of the product design.” Thinx added that the settlement, “is not an admission of guilt or wrongdoing.” Nonetheless, the agreement cleared the way for consumers to apply for refunds. It amounted to $7.50 per pair for people who retained their receipts and $3.50 for those who did not—well below the $35 retail price for a standard pair of Thinx underwear.
As for why a company would even consider introducing, Media reports suggested that the company introduced PFAS into its products because they had been used for decades due to their ability to make items resistant to water, oil or heat. This characteristic is the reason PFAS had been used historically to construct cooking pans, shampoo, cleaning products and cosmetics.
Thinx, in turn, used PFAS to make its underwear more liquid resistant to absorb period blood and still feel dry.
Unfortunately, Thinx’s products aren’t the only area where PFAs could be causing problems. The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) warns that PFAS can also be found in drinking water in many states, which has led the agency to recently propose a new federal standard to regulate several PFAS in U.S. drinking water. EPA Administrator Michael Regan went as far as to describe PFAS as “one of the most pressing environmental and public health concerns in the modern world.”
Regan doubled down on his worries in the press conference noting, “These toxic chemicals are so pervasive and so long-lasting in the environment that they’ve been found in food, soil and water even in the most remote corners of our planet. We anticipate that when fully implemented, this rule will prevent thousands of deaths and reduce tens of thousands of serious PFAS-related illnesses.”
Additional studies and any necessary regulations are still pending, but consumers and other concerned parties can get more information on products that contain PFAS but following an EPA recommendation to contact the Consumer Product Safety Commission for an extensive rundown. Additionally, individuals can reach out to their local water utility to inquire about its PFAS use.