In 2019, asbestos contamination of talc products was a significant topic within the cancer community.
The discussion is not going away in 2020, as experts ponder ways to prevent contamination and keep talc products from causing mesothelioma.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is considering wide-scale changes to how it tests for asbestos in talc-based products. In 2017, the agency formed the Interagency Working Group on Asbestos in Consumer Products. This panel has provided new recommendations for testing standards, which were summarized in a document on the FDA’s website.
The next step is allowing experts and the general public to weigh in on these recommendations and provide feedback on improving testing methods for asbestos in talc products.
The FDA will hold a public event Feb. 4 at the FDA’s White Oak Campus in Silver Springs, Maryland. The meeting will be the first FDA hearing since 1971 that focuses on testing methods for asbestos in talc and cosmetics.
Why Asbestos Is Dangerous
Asbestos is a fire-resistant mineral that benefited the construction and insulation industries for decades. Asbestos is also the only known cause of mesothelioma, a rare and aggressive cancer that causes around 3,300 American deaths each year.
When asbestos is disturbed, tiny fibers separate from the main component and enter the air. If they’re swallowed or inhaled, then they can travel into one of the many thin linings within the body. If the fibers irritate the cells within these linings, then cellular mutation occurs and mesothelioma forms.
The linings most commonly infiltrated by the asbestos fibers are the pleura and peritoneum. The pleura protects the lung cavity and is where pleural mesothelioma forms. The peritoneum covers the abdominal cavity and is where peritoneal mesothelioma originates.
How Talc Causes Mesothelioma
Talc is another mineral, one which is turned into powder (talcum powder) for skincare and other cosmetic purposes. Talc and asbestos are often found near one another in the earth’s soil, and their cohabitation can lead to unintentional mixing.
If asbestos infiltrates a talc mine, then it could contaminate the talcum powder created for commercial use. This process has led to numerous products having asbestos and putting users at risk of exposure. According to a New York Times article published in 2018, the goods include:
- Johnson & Johnson’s Baby Powder and Shower to Shower Powder
- Degree Men Antiperspirant and Deodorant
- Various cosmetic items (lipstick, mascara, face powder, blush, eye shadow or even children’s makeup)
- Chewing gum
- Walgreens Aspirin 81
- Centrum Multivitamins, and other supplements
- Food processing
There have been numerous mesothelioma lawsuits revolving around people using some of these products and developing the cancer. Johnson & Johnson, for instance, faces nearly 17,000 lawsuits and has already had to pay millions of dollars to victims.
Details of the Public Meeting
The FDA’s meeting starts at 8:30 a.m. and will last all day (until 5 p.m.) as officials listen to comments from experts, victims and more. The meeting’s primary purpose is to discuss the recommendations from the Interagency Working Group on Asbestos in Consumer Products.
Specifically, the FDA wants to elevate its “methodologies, terminology and criteria” with regards to characterizing and measuring asbestos in talc-based consumer products. One of the recommendations made by the panel is to increase sensitivity in testing for asbestos because there’s no safe level of exposure. Another suggestion is to update how the FDA reports its findings and decrease how large a particle must be to be considered harmful.
According to a Reuters report, the panel includes experts from the U.S. Geological Survey and National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.
How to Attend
The public meeting is an opportunity for researchers, advocates and regular citizens to express their opinions and learn more about what the panel suggests for identifying harmful asbestos in talc products.
The FDA encourages anyone interested in attending the meeting — whether in person or via live webcast — to register online. Attendees can register here.
- Public Meeting on Testing Methods for Asbestos in Talc and Cosmetic Products Containing Talc. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Retrieved from: https://www.fda.gov/cosmetics/cosmetics-news-events/public-meeting-testing-methods-asbestos-talc-and-cosmetic-products-containing-talc-02042020-02042020. Accessed: 01/13/20.
- Preliminary Recommendations on Testing Methods for Asbestos in Talc and Consumer Products Containing Talc. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Retrieved from: https://www.fda.gov/media/134005/download. Accessed: 01/13/20.
- What Is Talc, Where Is It Used and Why Is Asbestos a Concern. The New York Times. Retrieved from: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/12/14/business/talc-asbestos-powder-facts.html. Accessed: Accessed: 11/18/19.
- Government experts urge new talc testing standards amid asbestos worries. Reuters. Retrieved from: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-fda-talc-testing/government-experts-urge-new-talc-testing-standards-amid-asbestos-worries-idUSKBN1Z92I4. Accessed: 01/13/20.
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