How Does Asbestos Get Into Talcum Powder?

Talcum powder becomes tainted with asbestos early in the talc mining process. Talc and asbestos are both naturally occurring minerals that often form alongside each other in the earth. During the talc mining process, talc and asbestos minerals form near each other. When removed from the earth, cross-contamination occurs. Products made from asbestos-contaminated talc will likely be contaminated with asbestos.

Even though cosmetic talc goes through a refining process, asbestos fibers can still make it through and into talc products. Until recently, the cosmetic talc industry received very little oversight from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The talc industry has its own standard testing methods for asbestos contamination, but there are several deficiencies in the current testing methods.

After FDA regulators discovered traces of asbestos in some cosmetics and talcum powders, the agency enlisted a task-force to make recommendations for better regulation of talc products. The task force has already recommended the FDA standardize testing for asbestos and other minerals in talc.

Talc

Talc is a naturally occurring mineral that is mined from underground deposits. It is the softest mineral which makes it a useful ingredient for cosmetics and personal hygiene products. The smooth, powdery texture of talc makes it highly absorbent. Talc can be found in cosmetics, baby powder, other more expensive talc products and foot powder. Many industries use talc in manufacturing, such as paints, ceramics, chalk, and many others.

Asbestos

Asbestos is a naturally occurring, heat-resistant, fibrous mineral that was often used as a component in fire-resistant and insulating materials. In the 1950s, it was determined that asbestos was a carcinogenic material. The use of asbestos today has largely ceased, but it is still used in many products. Exposure to asbestos can result in the development of deadly asbestos-related diseases, such as mesothelioma, asbestosis, and lung cancer. People who worked in industrial plants, construction, shipyards, power plants and other construction trades were at high risk for asbestos exposure.

Asbestos-Related Health Issues

  • Asbestos exposure can cause individuals to develop deadly diseases like mesothelioma. Mesothelioma is a cancer that most commonly affects the lining of the lungs, called the pleura. It can also affect the lining of the abdomen, called the peritoneum. Typical symptoms of mesothelioma are: cough, chest pain, difficulty breathing, weight loss, and other symptoms.
  • Asbestosis is another lung disease that is caused when asbestos fibers get lodged in the lungs. The lungs become irritated and scarred by the toxic fibers. Victims with asbestosis may have difficulty breathing and a chronic cough.

Asbestos in Talc Products

Below are some of the products with known asbestos contamination:

Johnson & Johnson Baby Powder and other J&J Talc Hygiene Products

Johnson & Johnson is facing lawsuits from thousands of individuals who claim they developed mesothelioma and other cancers because of asbestos contaminated baby powder. Johnson & Johnson denies that their products are unsafe and continues to battle in court to save its family-friendly reputation.

However, an investigation by Reuters revealed the company knew as early at the 1950s that its talc products were contaminated with asbestos. Thousands of internal documents and memos uncovered by Reuters showed that the company knew about the toxic asbestos fibers in its powder, but failed to warn consumers about the health hazard.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has stepped up its efforts to monitor asbestos contamination in talc products after tests performed by the agency revealed asbestos in fibers in Johnson & Johnson baby powder. The agency is increasing oversight and working to implement standardize testing for talc product manufacturers.

Cashmere Bouquet Powder

Colgate-Palmolive manufactured a popular talcum powder product called Cashmere Bouquet, from the 1870s to 1980s. The product has been discontinued, but Colgate-Palmolive faced several lawsuits related to asbestos-contamination. Individuals with mesothelioma claim in the lawsuits that asbestos in Cashmere Bouquet led to the development of their disease.

Mennen and other Men’s Talcum Powder Products

A plaintiff was awarded $18 million in a 2016 lawsuit against talc supplier, Whittaker, Clark & Daniels. The plaintiff father owned a barber shop in which he claimed he was frequently exposed to talc products. The plaintiff says he developed mesothelioma after exposure to several talc products. The products listed in the lawsuit were Old Spice, Clubman, Kings Men, Faberge, and Mennen Shave Talc.

Cosmetics

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration conducted tests in 2019 on cosmetic products from retailers Claire’s and Justice. The results showed traces of asbestos fibers in the talc-based cosmetic products sold at the stores. Claire’s and Justice both recalled their talc-based cosmetic products.

However, this was not the first time there were concerns about these cosmetics. In 2017, reports surfaced questioning the products’ safety. Civil litigation against Claire’s stalled after the company filed for bankruptcy in 2018.

Industrial

Talc is used in the manufacturing of many products including clay, ceramics, crayons, chalk, paints, glazes, and others. Workers in these manufacturing facilities may have been exposed to asbestos. Workers who handle raw talc in mining and refinery facilities may also be at risk for asbestos exposure.