Talcum powder – that fluffy, white, sweet-smelling product women (and some men) have used for years – might just be killing you. Sound harsh? Maybe….but it’s true.
For years it’s been evident that inhaling talc on a regular basis may cause lung ailments, but it’s only recently that the truth has been divulged in regards to talcum powder and its connection with both ovarian cancer and mesothelioma in women.
A Government Secret
Apparently, the U.S. Government has been concerned about the safety of talc for nearly half a century. Specifically, the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) Division of Cosmetics Technology has been worried about the presence of tremolite and anthophyllite asbestos in talc since the mid-1970s, yet consumers have been kept in the dark all these years and, evidence shows, talc may still contaminated with asbestos.
An internal memorandum from Heinz J. Eiermann, then chair of the Division of Cosmetics Technology and author of the 1978-published book, Cosmetic Regulatory Actions in the United States: past, present, and future”, to Robert M. Shaffner, PhD, then Associate Director for Technology, expressed concern about the use of asbestos-tainted talc in the products of numerous well-known producers of talcum powder products as well as Whitakker, Clark, and Daniels, once the largest supplier of talc to U.S. cosmetic and pharmaceutical companies.
In the internal memorandum, Eiermann reported shoddy methods for testing for the presence of asbestos in the talc used in products manufactured by Avon, Johnson & Johnson, Coty, Chesebrough-Ponds, Colgate-Palmolive, Faberge, and Sterling Drugs. He talks of certain companies only conducting “random analyses” and others claiming comprehensive testing when evidence showed otherwise.
He speaks of a Johnson & Johnson study of British and American talc products where tremolite and anthophyllite forms of asbestos were found in 10 of 19 samples.
Eiermann calls Whitakker, Clark, and Daniels (WC&D) the “most important supplier of talc of various origins and quality grades to the cosmetic industry,” and then goes on to explain that he is “deeply concerned” about the company’s limited effort to control the quality of the talc that they sell to others.
He continues by noting that of the 20 or more grades or types of cosmetic talc the company sold, there is only assurance that any type of talc underwent ONE analysis for asbestos per year. Based on that testing, WC&D told their customers that they “routinely” monitor shipments of talc for the presence of asbestiform minerals and have “found no detectable amounts”.
An outright lie. Eiermann also questions why this company, so ensconced in the sale of talc, does not possess their own facilities for testing and analytical work. There is no evidence that the memorandum went any further than Shaffner.
Why the Concern?
It has long been clear that any amount of exposure to asbestos can cause serious illness, including mesothelioma. Hence, a small amount of powder dust contaminated with trace amounts of various types of asbestos – including not only tremolite and anthophyllite but also chrysotile – becomes dangerous.
Multiply this exposure by years of use by a particular individual and you exponentially increase the odds of that person developing aggressive asbestos-caused cancer, a cancer that’s most often associated with tradesmen who toiled from the 1940s through 1970s in places such as shipyards, steel mills, power plants, refineries, and other industries.
In 2014, at the request of a group of attorneys involved in asbestos-related litigation, a group of pathologists at the Icahn School of Medicine at Cedars Sinai Hospital in New York City penned a study entitled, “Asbestos in commercial cosmetic talcum powder as a cause of mesothelioma in women.”
In this study, Ronald E. Gordon et al investigated one historic brand of talcum powder associated with asbestos-caused cancer among women users. The study involved product testing, air releasability testing, and human tissue analysis from a woman with no other known exposure to asbestos other than through the use of the talcum powder that was the subject of the tests. The victim had succumbed to the ravages of mesothelioma cancer.
Remember, this study was conducted in 2014, nearly 40 years after Eiermann issued his internal memorandum outlining his concerns. In addition, it had also been some 40 years since the FDA proclaimed that all talcum products used in homes in the United States were now asbestos-free. Perhaps, however, that was never the case.
The results of the study were alarming. Some 50 containers of the talcum powder in question were gathered from a variety of different sources, including both online and directly from the manufacturer. Powder was tested from each of the samples. Scientists detected asbestiforms of the anthophyllite and tremolite varieties throughout the samples.
Next, they furthered the study to determine whether or not the user could inhale asbestos during a talcum powder application. Air samples were taken after a test subject applied talcum powder using both a traditional shaker container and a powder puff. Tests were also conducted in a bathroom-sized chamber, which would be the usual place for application. Again, the results were alarming.
Finally, in another laboratory, the pathologists examined human tissue from the mesothelioma victim in question. Both lung and lymph node tissue were examined according to standard methods.
The study declared that “All three laboratories confirmed in multiple tests the presence of asbestiform anthophyllite and asbestiform tremolite in the talcum powder products, just as had been found and described by Rohl and Langer over three decades ago.
The conclusion makes it clear as to why women – or anyone who regularly used or still uses talcum powder – should be concerned about a seemingly-innocuous personal care routine that perhaps they’ve been practicing for years.
Victims are Speaking Out
For decades, no one on the “inside” spoke out about this travesty. Instead, as with other asbestos cover-ups, the knowledge about the dangers of talcum powder use remained with company executives and government higher-ups. But, at last, victims are beginning to fight.
In April of 2015, a California woman was awarded $13 million in a suit against Colgate-Palmolive, makers of the Cashmere Bouquet line of products, Judith Winkel, age 73 at the time of the trial, had used the product from 1961 to 1976 and developed the cancer decades later. It was the first verdict won against the health and beauty giant, a company that noted in the aforementioned 1976 document that they had conducted 42 talc analyses between 1971 and 1976.
Eiermann commented that, considering the size of Colgate-Palmolive’s talcum business, the analytical effort seemed quite small. The company was receiving talc from three different mines during that time, so talc contamination would have consistently differed from mine to mine.
A lawyer for Winkel and her husband said, “The risk posed by contaminated powders is something that is coming to light due to the legal system. It should have come to light due to the company being honest in the ’60s and ’70s about the fact that they were finding asbestos in their talcum powder.”
Up until the Winkel case hit the courts, the only other talc-related mesothelioma lawsuit on record was filed by a New Jersey cancer victim who claimed his disease was developed as a result of the asbestos/talc dust brought home by his father who worked in a plant where Old Spice and Desert Flower talcum powders were produced.
The defendant in that case, Whittaker, Clark, and Daniels, was ordered to pay $1.6 million to the plaintiff.
Records show that there are currently more actions pending against Colgate in regards to its Cashmere Bouquet product. Chances are other talcum powder producers will be hit with litigation as well.
In the meantime, several hundred claims are pending against pharmaceutical/health and beauty mega-company Johnson and Johnson, filed by a woman who have developed ovarian cancer after using Johnson’s Baby Powder and the company’s Shower-to-Shower powder for feminine hygiene purposes.
It’s just another page in the “talcum powder can cause cancer” book, a volume that is about to grow larger as more and more individuals recognize the reason for their cancer diagnosis.