Talcum Powder Contaminated with Asbestos

Talc is the main ingredient in many brands of baby powder and similar personal hygiene products. Various talc products, especially those manufactured before federal regulations existed, were cross-contaminated with asbestos fibers, putting consumers at risk for dangerous exposure.

Talc is the softest mineral on earth, and finely crushed talcum powder is valued for its ability to absorb moisture and provide lubrication at the same time. People have used talcum powder products to dry, protect and perfume their skin for more than a century.

Asbestos Cashmere Bouquet Talcum Powder
Asbestos Cashmere Bouquet Talcum Powder
 

But in modern times, talc’s reputation has been marred by two controversies over its safety.

There is ongoing debate over whether pure talc is associated with health risks. Researchers agree breathing the dust from talc mines and processing facilities is unhealthy, but so far studies on the link between exposure to talc and cancer have been inconclusive.

On the other hand, there is no doubt asbestos exposure through contaminated talcum powder can cause cancer. In this case, the controversy arises over which brands of talcum powder were contaminated with asbestos and which companies are now liable when people develop asbestos-related cancers such as mesothelioma.

History

At a Glance

  • Places Used: Personal hygiene products
  • Toxicity: High
  • Asbestos Use Banned: Yes
  • Friable: Yes

Companies began to selling talcum powder in the late 1800s to alleviate and prevent skin irritations such as chafing and diaper rash. Pulverized talc became known by many names, including “medicated powder” and “foot powder,” but its most famous branding came with the introduction of Johnson & Johnson Baby Powder in 1893.

As generations of Americans grew up with talcum powder in their nurseries, talc companies took advantage of the powder’s low cost and good reputation by marketing a wide range of talcum powder products for adults.

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Numerous companies sold perfumed talcum powder as face-dusting powder for women and after-shave powder for men. Johnson & Johnson maintained its prime position in the industry with its Shower to Shower line of body powder products.

During the first half of the 20th century, asbestos also had a positive reputation with the American public — because of the industry cover-up of the mineral’s terrible health effects. The asbestos industry spent decades denying the mineral’s toxicity, giving talcum powder manufacturers no reason to think asbestos-contaminated talc was a problem.

Unfortunately, talc and asbestos often occur in the same geological formations. Many companies sourced their talc from asbestos-contaminated mines, including sites in North Carolina, Alabama, Vermont and northern Italy.

In the 1970s, mounting medical evidence began to turn the tide of opinion against asbestos. Then in 1976, researchers at Mount Sinai Hospital examined 19 samples of American talcum powder products and found asbestos in 10 of them, with the asbestos content ranging from 2 percent to as much as 20 percent, depending on the brand.

Federal law has required consumer talcum powder products to be asbestos-free since the 1970s. Because of the long latency period associated with asbestos-related diseases, though, many people who routinely used contaminated talcum powder in the 1960s may only just now develop symptoms.

Talc Products Associated with Asbestos

The 1976 study did not find asbestos in the talcum powder samples acquired from Johnson & Johnson. However, according to recently unsealed company documents, officials at Johnson & Johnson did suppress reports of asbestos contamination at one supplier’s mine in the early 1970s.

Today, body powder products may be made of pure talc, cornstarch or various other alternatives.

In response to lingering concerns over asbestos contamination, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) conducted a study of American talcum powder products in 2009-2010. The FDA found no asbestos contamination, though the report cautions the sample size was limited.

Talcum powder brands associated with past asbestos contamination include:

  • Bauer & Black Baby Talc

  • Cashmere Bouquet Body Talc

  • Coty Airspun Face Powder

  • Desert Flower Dusting Powder

  • English Leather After Shave Talc

  • Faberge Brut Talc

  • Friendship Garden Talcum Powder

  • Kings Men After Shave Talc

  • Old Spice After Shave Talc

  • Pinaud Clubman Talc Powder

  • Rosemary Talc

  • ZBT Baby Powder

Lawsuits over Asbestos-Contaminated Talcum Powder

Many people who have developed cancer because of asbestos-contaminated talcum powder have sought compensation by filing a lawsuit.

In 2015, Judith Winkel won $13 million in a lawsuit against Colgate-Palmolive and four other companies. She had used Cashmere Bouquet brand talcum powder from 1961 to 1976 and was diagnosed with mesothelioma in 2014.

More recently in 2016, a jury awarded Philip Depoian $18 million in a lawsuit against talc supplier Whittaker, Clark & Daniels. He had been exposed to the company’s contaminated talc in products at his father’s barbershop and was diagnosed with mesothelioma in 2015.

Lawsuits over asbestos-contaminated talcum powder should not be confused with lawsuits over talc itself. Many lawsuits have been filed on the basis that pure talcum powder may cause ovarian cancer, but that matter is far from settled.

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Daniel King

Daniel King joined Asbestos.com in 2017. He comes from a military family and attended high school on a military base. He feels a close connection to veterans, military families and the many hardships they face. As an investigative writer with interests in mesothelioma research and environmental issues, he seeks to educate others about the dangers of asbestos exposure to protect them from the deadly carcinogen linked to asbestos-related conditions. Daniel also holds several certificates in health writing from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Sources
  1. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. (2017, November 15). Talc. Retrieved from https://www.fda.gov/Cosmetics/ProductsIngredients/Ingredients/ucm293184.htm
  2. American Cancer Society. (2017, November 13). Talcum Powder and Cancer. Retrieved from https://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancer-causes/talcum-powder-and-cancer.html
  3. Hsu, T. (2017, September 28). Risk on All Sides as 4,800 Women Sue Over Johnson’s Baby Powder and Cancer. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/28/business/johnson-and-johnson-baby-talcum-powder-lawsuits.html
  4. Feely, J., Fisk, M. and Hopkins, J. (2017, September 22). Johnson & Johnson alerted to risk of asbestos in talc in '70s, files show. Retrieved from http://www.chicagotribune.com/business/ct-johnson-johnson-talc-asbestos-warning-20170922-story.html
  5. Hayes, P. (2017, September 14). Johnson & Johnson’s Newest Talc Problem? Asbestos. Retrieved from https://www.bna.com/johnson-johnsons-newest-n57982087958/
  6. Insurance Journal. (2016, October 27). Jury in California Awards $18M Cosmetic Talc Cancer Verdict. Retrieved from http://www.insurancejournal.com/news/west/2016/10/27/430707.htm
  7. Melley, B. (2015, April 29). Jury Awards Woman $13 Million for Asbestos Exposure. Retrieved from http://www.usnews.com/news/business/articles/2015/04/29/jury-awards-woman-13m-for-exposure-to-asbestos-in-talcum
  8. Gordon, R., Fitzgerald, S. and Millette, J. (2014, October). Asbestos in commercial cosmetic talcum powder as a cause of mesothelioma in women. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4164883/
  9. The New York Times Archives. (1976, March 10). Asbestos Found in Ten Powders. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/1976/03/10/archives/asbestos-found-in-ten-powders.html

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