Asbestos in Baby Powder Explained
Talc or talcum powder, is a naturally occurring clay mineral mined from the earth. One of talc’s most common uses is in baby powder because of its ability to absorb moisture and prevent diaper rash. Talc also has commercial and food applications.
Asbestos has become heavily regulated within the United States, although it isn’t outright banned. It’s still possible for miners to come in contact with asbestos while mining for talc.
There are nearly a dozen talc mines across the United States, including in:
- New York
While asbestos-containing talc is typically acknowledged within industrial applications, there has been great controversy over whether it’s also used in food-grade and cosmetic talc, like baby powder.
Johnson & Johnson, Baby Powder, and Asbestos
A series of lawsuits and reports have recently linked the talc in Johnson & Johnson’s baby powder to asbestos. Johnson & Johnson is the world’s most famous supplier of baby powder.
A 2018 Reuters investigative report broke down the timeline using officially released documents from the company
According to the investigative report:
- In 1957, trace amounts of asbestos fibers are found in samples of talc from Johnson & Johnson’s Italian supplier.
- In the mid-1960s, talc from Vermont mines owned by a subsidiary company of Johnson & Johnson is also found to contain traces of asbestos. Sample tests continue to find small amounts of talc through the 1970s.
- Instead of reporting all findings, Johnson & Johnson only submitted select studies to the FDA in the mid-1970s. The company emphasized studies that fit their agenda and claimed that their talc contained no asbestos.
- The company even used its influence to craft its own studies in the mid-1970s—in which they told researchers what results they wanted.
- The company also tried to influence government studies by having its subsidiary companies act as advisers.
- Studies continued to find trace amounts of asbestos in the company’s baby powder through the early 2000s, when the company started sourcing its talc from China.
- Johnson & Johnson is currently facing lawsuits from nearly 12,000 plaintiffs who are claiming that their products caused them to develop cancer.
- Johnson & Johnson disputes the claims in the Reuters report and is looking to appeal the verdicts.
- At this time, there are have been no announcements for a recall of Johnson & Johnson baby powder.
Asbestos denial is a common theme among American talc mining companies, which all claim their cosmetic-grade talc does not contain asbestos.
Outside of the U.S., many countries have ignored the dangers of asbestos and have lax regulations, allowing asbestos-containing talc to be mined and used in baby powder. Though not common, it’s possible for baby powder with asbestos to be imported to the United States from these foreign countries.
Johnson & Johnson Talc: Breaking News
In May 2020, Johnson & Johnson announced that it would no longer sell Johnson’s Baby Powder® in the United States and Canada.
The corporation made this decision after several lawsuits brought awareness to the link between asbestos in talc-based products and mesothelioma. The concerned public stopped buying Johnson’s Baby Powder in response.
Despite the many victims who developed cancer after using the company’s talc-based powder for years, Johnson & Johnson continues to deny that its products cause any harm.
Johnson & Johnson Investigation
In February 2019, ABC News reported that the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) have started to investigate claims that Johnson & Johnson’s baby powder contains asbestos.
As part of the investigation, Johnson & Johnson was subpoenaed, meaning they must turn over selected talc-related documents to the organizations conducting the investigation. The company is fully cooperating, according to documents filed with the SEC.
Johnson & Johnson continues to deny allegations that their talcum powder is anything but safe, according to the ABC report.
However, the SEC’s filings note that the number of talc-related lawsuits against the company has been increasing and that Johnson & Johnson has lost several cases. The company seeks to appeal cases it has lost.
Jury Verdicts and Subcommittee Concerns
In March 2019, Johnson & Johnson came under more scrutiny from both the public and the government. Over a two-day period, the company lost a major talc lawsuit and was a main focus of a House of Representatives subcommittee hearing.
The Subcommittee on Economic and Consumer policy was recently created to protect the interests of consumers. Its first hearing was held March 12, during which its members discussed the growing concerns around asbestos-contaminated talc, including the recent reports surrounding Johnson & Johnson’s baby powder.
In April 2018, Johnson and Johnson lost a case that cost them $117 Million, when a man convinced a judge that their baby powder resulted in his asbestos-related cancer. Johnson and Johnson deny their baby powder has ever contained asbestos and is appealing the verdict.
The next day, a jury in California awarded $29.4 Million to a woman with mesothelioma and her husband. The woman claimed her cancer stemmed from using Johnson & Johnson talcum powder. She used the company’s baby powder and Shower to Shower powder in the 1960s and 1970s.
During those decades, the company allegedly worked to discredit any links between their talcum powder and asbestos, as stated in the December 2018 Reuters report.
Who Was Exposed to Asbestos in Baby Powder?
Miners and other manufacturing workers are most likely to be exposed to asbestos in baby powder. They work in close quarters with airborne talc for long hours and are prone to accidentally inhaling asbestos fibers—especially if safety protocols aren’t implemented or followed.
Miner’s family members, including spouses and children, may also be exposed to asbestos from particles getting trapped on the clothes and tools of the talc miner. Babies and their caregivers, including parents, siblings and daycare workers, are also at risk of asbestos exposure from contaminated baby powder.
Risks of Applying Baby Powder
Baby powder is typically applied by shaking talc powder directly onto a baby’s bottom and then rubbing it in. This shaking allows the powder’s particles to become airborne, while direct application to sensitive areas of the baby’s body may also cause health impacts.
If asbestos-containing baby powder is used for diaper rash, anyone in a contained room where that baby powder is routinely dispersed may be at risk of asbestos exposure.
Health Risks of Asbestos in Baby Powder
While scientists debate whether pure talc is a harmful substance when inhaled, there is no doubt that asbestos is deadly.
Mesothelioma is an aggressive form of cancer that is caused by the accidental inhalation of microscopic asbestos fibers. When asbestos becomes airborne, this inhalation can occur from simple natural breathing.
Inhaled asbestos fibers sometimes become lodged in the body’s natural lining, the same way a javelin gets stuck in the ground. The body doesn’t have a system for removing these types of fibers and, as a mineral, asbestos doesn’t break down well over time. Instead, the asbestos fibers remain stuck in the body indefinitely.
Trapped fibers can trigger mutations in the surrounding cells. Cellular mutation is a slow but dangerous transformation, as healthy cells turn into cancerous mesothelioma cells. It’s the nature of mesothelioma cancer cells to spread throughout the body to distant organs.
Mesothelioma is nearly impossible to detect until it is in the late stages. By then, the cancer cells are hard to destroy, resulting in a high fatality rate for victims of the disease.
Seeking Justice for Asbestos Exposure
It’s hard to imagine that something as innocuous as baby powder could harbor cancer-forming fibers, but that is the unfortunate reality of mining talc from areas that also contain asbestos. Many victims have developed mesothelioma after working with or using asbestos baby powder.