U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell introduced legislation this week that would mandate a warning label on cosmetics marketed to children unless stricter testing can show they are free of asbestos fibers.
The legislation was sparked by reports in 2017 that trace amounts of tremolite asbestos were found in cosmetics marketed to girls by national retail chains Claire’s and Justice.
Although both companies quickly pulled products off store shelves, they also disputed the findings and later produced lab results showing their merchandise was safe and free of asbestos.
“Parents across the country should have the peace of mind in knowing that the cosmetics they buy for their children are safe,” Dingell said in a congressional press release. “No child should be exposed to asbestos through the use of common, everyday products.”
Dingell introduced the bill as “Children’s Product Warning Label Act of 2018.”
Testing Protocol for Cosmetics Is Key
The key issue today is the testing protocol used for cosmetic talc in the various products.
Although the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) strongly encourages cosmetic companies to test for traces of asbestos, there is no federal law requiring it.
The FDA protocol also does not include the technologically advanced transmission electron microscopy (TEM) to test for the toxic mineral.
Less-exact, polarized light microscopy (PLM) and X-ray diffraction (XRD) are considered adequate by current standards.
There never has been a medically documented case of a person diagnosed with an asbestos-related disease traced to cosmetics. But most experts agree even a small amount of exposure to asbestos could cause serious health problems such as mesothelioma.
Exposure also can lead to lung cancer, asbestosis and other serious issues.
Congress May Grant FDA More Authority
Dingell this week also called for a broad overhaul of the FDA’s authority over personal care products and cosmetics, believing it is the best way to address the current dilemma.
“But if Congress is unwilling to consider this approach, we should start taking common sense steps to protect our children by passing my legislation to ensure consumers have all the facts about the products they purchase,” she said. “Congress must make this a priority in 2018.”
The issue of asbestos in cosmetics stems from the extensive use of talc, one of the world’s softest minerals.
It is used as a binding agent in chalk, ceramics and rubber. Talc is a common ingredient in cosmetics, pharmaceuticals and a variety of other products.
Thousands of talc-related claims have been filed against pharmaceutical giants Johnson & Johnson and Colgate-Palmolive, claiming prolonged use of their personal care products led to cancer.
Talc Often Mixed with Asbestos
Talc often is found in the same area of the earth’s surface as asbestos.
It’s why talc is no longer mined in New York, Vermont or Southern California — where traces of asbestos have been commonly mixed with talc.
Most of the reserves today come from mines in central and west Texas and southwest Montana, where the talc is purer.
As part of the proposed legislation, the cosmetics manufacturer must attest in writing to the Department of Health and Human Services that the talc being used comes from an asbestos-free mine.
The product also must be tested using the TEM method. Without those two assurances, the product would be required to have a warning label.
“We need to pass comprehensive legislation to create a user-fee program for cosmetics and give the FDA the authority to review the most dangerous ingredients so they can keep people safe,” Dingell said.