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Talcum Powder, Asbestos and Mesothelioma

Mesothelioma is largely associated with continued exposure to asbestos, most often in the workplace. Men and women who worked around asbestos for decades are at risk for developing this deadly type of cancer. There remains a mystery, though as to how people who were not exposed to asbestos could develop mesothelioma. While the majority of diagnoses are connected to workplace exposure, not all are and researchers have been trying to figure out why.

One possible reason that some people develop mesothelioma could be through the use of talcum powder. Talc is a natural mineral, mined from the earth like asbestos, and when it is made into talcum powder it may contain traces of asbestos. U.S. law has required since the 1970s that talcum powder be free of asbestos, but some believe that some contamination persisted and put people at risk of mesothelioma.

Talc and Talcum Powder

Talc, like asbestos, is a natural mineral. It is one of the softest of all minerals and can be easily crushed into a fine powder that has certain desirable properties. Talc has industrial uses, and people exposed to it through mining or other work involving talc, may be at risk for certain cancers. As a consumer product talc is mostly used in the form of talcum powder.

Because talc absorbs moisture and reduces friction, talcum powder has been popular as a cosmetic product and ingredient for more than one hundred years. People use it on skin to absorb moisture and keep it dry and to prevent rashes. In makeup and other cosmetic products, talc provides a texture that makes the product easier to apply and more comfortable on the skin. Some of the more common types of cosmetics and hygiene products that use talc include baby powder, blush, face powder, eyeshadow, and foundation.

Talcum Powder and Ovarian Cancer

Talcum powder is used mostly by women, and ovarian cancer is a potential risk that has been studied. Application of talcum powder to the genital area or use with sanitary napkins or tampons may be connected to ovarian cancer. Over time, particles of talc can make its way up to the ovaries, where they may cause damage. Several women have blamed ovarian cancer on this use of talcum powder.

Several studies have also investigated this to determine if talcum powder can cause ovarian cancer and the results have been mixed. Some studies have found that women who used talcum powder had an increased risk of this kind of cancer. The evidence is compelling enough that some women have won settlements in lawsuits over talcum powder and cancer.

Talcum Powder and Mesothelioma

The questions surrounding talcum powder and cancer have extended to mesothelioma. It has long remained a mystery how some women have developed mesothelioma. This cancer is more common in men because it is most often caused by asbestos exposure in construction, naval, shipyard, mining, and factory jobs. Talcum powder could be one key to the mystery of how some women have been diagnosed with mesothelioma with no known exposure to asbestos.

If talcum powder is contaminated by asbestos, then it could cause mesothelioma. Asbestos causes this cancer when someone inhales the airborne fibers. Because talcum powder is so light, breathing in the particles is common. Any asbestos contaminating such a product would also be inhaled. Once in the body, asbestos fibers lodge in tissues, most often in those that surround the lungs in the chest cavity, and cause damage that could lead to cancer.

Asbestos in Talc Products

The main question in terms of talc causing mesothelioma is whether or not the mineral and the products made from it contain asbestos. If they do, then they could be reasonable causes of mesothelioma in people who were exposed to these powders for years. In 1973 the government put regulations in place that required all talcum powders be free of asbestos, but that does not mean that all products were free of the contaminant.

In one recent study, researchers investigated samples of a particular brand of talcum powder to look for any traces of asbestos. The results were clear: the powder did contain asbestos and the fact that the powder could be easily inhaled led the researchers to conclude that it could and likely did cause mesothelioma in some people.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has also investigated asbestos contamination in talc. Although the FDA does not regulate cosmetics, it tested several talc-containing cosmetic products as well as cosmetic-grade talc between 2009 and 2010 to find out if any were contaminated with asbestos. The study did not find any asbestos, but the FDA admits that the investigation was limited. The study only included samples from four suppliers of talc.

Some critics say that the current standard methods used to test talc and products for asbestos contamination are simply not sensitive enough. The tests are outdated, as admitted by an executive in a company that supplies talc. The executive stated in a letter to the FDA that standard methods of detecting asbestos in talc just were not good enough to ensure talc would be free of the harmful contaminant.

Lawsuits

The evidence on asbestos in talc and how talcum powder products could contribute to mesothelioma continues to develop, but in the meantime, women affected have taken action. In 2015 a woman from California successfully sued Colgate-Palmolive over its Cashmere Bouquet. The woman said she had used the talcum powder for fifteen years and was ultimately diagnosed with mesothelioma. The company disagreed with the jury, which awarded the woman $13 million.

In 2016, a man from California also won a talcum powder lawsuit. The suit was filed against a company that supplied talc, Whittaker, Clark & Daniels. The defendant said the company’s talc was used in his father’s barber shop, where he spent a lot of time. Decades later, the defendant was diagnosed with mesothelioma and he accused the supply company of failing to test talc for asbestos. The talc in question came from mines in North Carolina and Alabama, known to also contain asbestos. The jury agreed with the defendant and he won $18 million.

The research and the debates over the connection between talc and mesothelioma will likely continue, but until testing methods are improved and products can be guaranteed asbestos-free, many more people may be put at risk. For those who do become sick because of talcum powder, lawsuits are always an option and one that can provide much-needed compensation as well as justice.

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