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What is Talc and What Does Asbestos Have to Do With It?

Author
Alicia Betz
June 12, 2022

Talcum powder, which is derived from talc, is a naturally-occurring mineral. It’s used in many products to absorb moisture and create a silky smooth texture. 

Asbestos and talc are not one and the same, but they are often found alongside each other in the earth. When this happens, talc can become contaminated with asbestos. Manufacturers are not able to remove the asbestos from the powder, and they aren’t even able to detect its presence without testing. That’s why many consumers and advocacy groups are rightfully wary of talcum powder. 

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What is Talc?

Talc is a mineral found naturally in the earth. It’s made of magnesium, silicon, oxygen, and hydrogen and has the following chemical formula: Mg3(Si4O10)(OH)2. It’s a soft mineral that can be crushed, dried, and milled.

Talc is widely used in products like body powder, deodorant, supplements, vitamins, makeup, and paint. It makes makeup and deodorant silky, it absorbs moisture when used as a body powder, and it’s a caking agent in vitamins and supplements. While it’s highly useful as an ingredient in products, the safety of talc has been called into question for decades, most recently in a large recall of baby powder that contained talcum powder.

In addition to the above products, talcum powder, which is derived from talc, was also commonly used in baby powder in the past. However, in 2020, this practice largely stopped when Johnson & Johnson’s Baby Powder was recalled due to asbestos contamination.

Even without asbestos contamination, talc may be dangerous and cause health complications on its own. Studies are still inconclusive, but it’s possible that talcum powder itself may cause ovarian cancer when used in the genital region. Talcum powder is also harmful on its own, as it can become a choking hazard for babies when they breathe in the fine powder. For this reason, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has long advised parents not to use baby powder. 

Five Risk-Free Alternatives to Talcum Powder >>

How Are Talc and Asbestos Related? 

Because talc and asbestos are often naturally found very close to each other, talc can sometimes be contaminated with asbestos. When asbestos fibers are ground up and added to things like baby powder, they can be harmful to humans. The small asbestos fibers are dangerous to humans when inhaled. 

Asbestos contamination in talcum powder was precisely the problem with the recalled Johnson & Johnson Baby Powder. Since the 1970s, it has been well-known that asbestos could contaminate talc. 

In the case of the Johnson & Johnson recall, many believe that the company knew its products were contaminated with asbestos and failed to adequately warn consumers. Because of this, many people who have developed ovarian cancer or mesothelioma have filed lawsuits against the company, and so far Johnson & Johnson has paid out millions of dollars to those affected by the dangerous product.

Because it is known that talc can be contaminated with asbestos, Food and Drug Administration (FDA) standards state that talc should be tested for asbestos. These standards were enacted in the 1970s. In 2021, the FDA tested some talc-containing makeup products for asbestos, but the agency does not engage in routine testing.

On independent tests, products containing talcum powder continually test positive for asbestos today. In a 2020 independent test conducted by the Environmental Working Group (EWG), 15% of the personal care products tested contained asbestos. Without individually testing every batch of mined talc, it’s impossible to know if the talcum powder in any given product contains asbestos. Each company that includes talc in their products does safety tests, but the tests are not standardized, and they do not need to release their results. 

Why is Asbestos Dangerous?

Asbestos is made of very durable fibers. That’s why the material was often used in construction in the past. It’s also resistant to heat, fire, and chemicals. With so many beneficial properties, it makes sense that a lot of industries and manufacturers used asbestos in their products. However, those fibers that make up asbestos are very dangerous to the human body when they become airborne.

Those durable asbestos fibers become small and thin when they are disturbed. Once they are disturbed and float through the air, they can cause harm when people breathe them in. Once this happens, they tend to get stuck in the lungs, causing scarring and inflammation. Over time, this can lead to lung cancer, mesothelioma, pleural effusions, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and other cancers and health concerns.

Another reason asbestos is dangerous is that symptoms of exposure typically take years or even decades to develop. People at high risk for exposure through their occupation may face years of asbestos exposure without realizing it. By the time symptoms start to develop, the damage has already been done. Symptoms of asbestos exposure may include: 

  • Cough
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Fatigue 
  • Weight loss
  • Trouble swallowing 
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain
  • Hoarse voice 
  • Loss of appetite
  • Coughing up blood 
  • Wheezing

If you have developed any of the above symptoms and believe you may have been exposed to asbestos, contact your healthcare provider. 

How To Reduce Your Exposure to Asbestos

As a known human carcinogen, no exposure to asbestos is safe. It’s difficult — if not impossible — to determine if any talc-based products you use contain asbestos. If you want to eliminate your risk of asbestos exposure, stop using any products that contain talc. On ingredient lists, talc may be listed as talc, talcum powder, cosmetic talc, or magnesium silicate.

Free Case Evaluation

If you or a loved one were diagnosed with ovarian cancer after using talcum powder, we can help you fight for your rights and compensation.

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