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
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.
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.
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.