It was 1971 the last time the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) examined asbestos testing in talc products in powders and cosmetics. The subject came to the forefront after finding traces of asbestos in several talc cosmetics and powders including a bottle of Johnson & Johnson’s Baby Powder, toy makeup kits for children from IQ Toys and other products, among them crayons and other makeup marketed to children and preteens over the past few years.
Why asbestos testing after almost 50 years?
The talc industry has long operated with little oversight from the FDA. In fact, manufacturers of talc products have no requirement to test for asbestos even now.
There has been a growing outcry from the public to ensure talc is clear of any asbestos as more and more people have pointed to asbestos-containing talc as the cause of various cancers. Recommendations were published last month from a panel of government experts. These experts were public health authorities and knowledgeable authorities on asbestos who defended plaintiffs who alleged contaminated talc products caused their cancers. They, and others, requested a “thorough review of the most effective and reliable ways to test for asbestos in cosmetic talc.”
Despite evidence to the contrary, industry groups criticize the recommendations asserting these would not improve safety. Johnson & Johnson (J&J) continues to defend the safety of its talc. They cited no asbestos was found in the samples provided to the labs hired by J&J. However, a 2018 Reuters report proved J&J knew for decades their raw talc and powders did test positive for asbestos, but they did not report that to the FDA.
How are asbestos and talc connected?
When mined, the two minerals are often found in the same areas. Collecting only talc is difficult. Both minerals have such small particles that they can be inhaled into the lungs and cause diseases such as mesothelioma and lung cancer.
At the February 4th hearing, a government toxicologist said, “a wide range of spear-shaped mineral particles – including but not limited to asbestos – can start the development of cancer and should be part of any new testing regime.
What are EMPs?
While milling talc, the process breaks down contaminants into elongated mineral particles (EMPs). A senior adviser with the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, Christopher Weis, stated at the meeting, “All EMPs have the ability to trigger” development of cancer and other diseases. “Short EMPs are not conventionally counted or included in lab reports. As a toxicologist, this is unacceptable.”
On the other side, Mark Pollak COO of a 600 member trade group, the Personal Care Products Council, said counting more mineral particles as potentially harmful is not supported by science and could provide misleading reports.
What happens with asbestos testing now?
According to Dr. Linda Katz, director of the FDA’s office of cosmetics and colors, experts from the FDA and other agencies will publish a white paper after a continued study on these issues. The date of the white paper is unknown and there is no deadline for deciding if there will be new rules on testing.
Scott Faber, senior vice president for government affairs at the Environmental Working Group (EWG), implored the FDA to advocate for more stringent testing and recommended a warning label be affixed to talc products to alert consumers to the possibility of asbestos present in the talc. Faber said at the hearing, “It’s time to end the honor system which has failed consumers for so long. Let’s not wait another 50 years to finally protect consumers.”