Johnson and Johnson, The American multinational medical and pharmaceutical giant has been in and out of the news a lot recently. Often, for all the wrong reasons. Their talcum powder, it would appear, can contain asbestos. More damning, is the length of time they’ve supposedly known about this. But, in reality, how dangerous is asbestos in talc?

Very dangerous, as it
turns out.

At least it is according to the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), which is a part of the World Health Organization (WHO). Which is, itself, a
part of the United Nations (UN). The IARC has classified talc that contains asbestos as ‘carcinogenic
to humans.’

As far as the IARC is concerned, talc with asbestos exists in the same category as asbestos itself. And the IARC is the recognised authority in this matter.

So, asbestos in talc is
definitely dangerous.

But what’s been happening
with Johnson and Johnson?

Well, Johnson and Johnson
are currently facing thousands
of lawsuits
in America relating to
asbestos in their talcum powder products. And, in July 2018, the news broke
that a court had ordered Johnson and Johnson to pay out $4.7bn
to 22 women
who had developed ovarian
cancer.

Then, in December 2018,
this report returned to the headlines, when it was announced that Johnson and
Johnson had known about asbestos in the talc for decades.

So, how and why is there
asbestos in talc, if it’s so dangerous?

Talc is a naturally
occurring mineral and, in of itself, does not contain asbestos.T

asbestos in talc

However, Talc is formed
in a similar way to one of the types of asbestos, called Tremolite. As such, deposits of Talc and Tremolite can often form very
close to each other.

In these circumstances,
it is reasonably easy for Talc to become contaminated with Tremolite. And,
sometimes one of the other asbestos types, Chrysotile. Although, if there’s Tremolite present, the Chrysotile it the
least of your concerns. Tremolite is an amphibole fibre and much more dangerous than the serpentine fibre of
Chrysotile.

Which leads to the
question of, of much of a health risk is the asbestos contained within the talc?

And that’s more
complicated.

The complication is,
whether the asbestos in the talc is in a high enough concentration to pose a meaningful
risk to health. In the past, it would seem, the answer is yes.

Tremolite

The women with the
ovarian cancer would certainly think so. The problem for them is that the link
between asbestos and ovarian cancer is quite weak, which is how Johnson and
Johnson are able to challenge and appeal so many of these cases.

In terms of lung cancer
and Mesothelioma, Johnson and Johnson
have faced prosecution here too. In April 2018, a man was awarded
$117mn
for Mesothelioma brought
on by the talcum powder he’d used over a period of decades. His was not the
first talc related mesothelioma win, and there are plenty more cases working
their way through the courts. And not just with Johnson and Johnson.

That said, there has to
be exposure to a reasonably high concentration of asbestos over a reasonable
period of time to result in a cancer. The chance of this happening through
contaminated talc, in this day and age, seems incredibly small.

Which isn’t to say that
you should ever use a talc that contains asbestos, because you certainly
shouldn’t.

Don’t use talc containing asbestos

For more information on
talc and cancer, see here.

Should you wish to have your talc tested to see whether it contains asbestos, we can help with that.

But the reality is that
asbestos in talc is very rare and, even when there, it is in extremely low
quantities. Even so, and to be on the safe side, don’t overuse talc and make
sure you don’t breath it in.