The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is considering testing standards for asbestos in talc-containing cosmetics, like Johnson’s Baby Powder, following a hearing this week with government officials. It is the first time since 1971 that the agency has examined the possibility that talc used in consumer products could be contaminated with the known carcinogen.
Recommended testing standards were published last month with the support of public health officials and those representing consumers who allege asbestos-contaminated talcum powder products caused them to develop cancer. Among them was Beasley Allen lawyer Leigh O’Dell. Leigh is serving as co-lead counsel in the federal multidistrict litigation (MDL) handling talc cancer claims. Additionally, two Beasley Allen clients – Marvin Salter, whose mother Jacqueline Fox passed away from ovarian cancer after using talcum powder her whole life, and Deborah Giannecchini – addressed the FDA to advocate for regulation.
Talc is a mineral that is mined from the earth in the same fashion and, at times, in the same proximity as asbestos. As a result, there is a real possibility that talc could be contaminated with asbestos. Yet, the FDA has allowed the cosmetics industry to essentially police itself when it comes to ensuring its talc doesn’t contain traces of the carcinogen. The government panel said the industry’s testing methods have “long-recognized shortcomings in specificity and sensitivity.”
Even if the cosmetics industry denies the presence of asbestos in its products, the mineral particles in talc are small enough that they can be inhaled and should be considered potentially as harmful as asbestos with “similar pathological outcomes,” the expert panel said.
Consumer health care giant Johnson & Johnson has continuously fought claims that its iconic baby powder and its other talc-containing products are harmful, despite hundreds of lawsuits that claim exposure to the products causes ovarian cancer and mesothelioma, a rare form of cancer caused by asbestos exposure.
In October, Johnson & Johnson issued a recall of its Johnson’s Baby Powder when FDA testing found traces of asbestos in one lot of the talcum powder. J&J argued that its own testing didn’t find any asbestos. In December 2018, a Reuters investigation revealed that documents showed the company was aware its talc could contain asbestos but failed to warn regulators or consumers.
Last May, the FDA announced it had confirmed the presence of asbestos in makeup products from tween retailers Claire’s and Justice.
The FDA said that it would gather public comment on testing standards for talc before making any formal decisions.
Beasley Allen lawyers Ted Meadows and Leigh O’Dell are heading up the team handling claims of ovarian cancer linked to talcum powder use for feminine hygiene. Sharon Zinns, who works in Beasley Allen’s Atlanta office, is leading a team handling mesothelioma claims. They are looking at cases of industrial, occupational and secondary asbestos exposure resulting in lung cancer or mesothelioma as well as claims of asbestos-related talc products linked to mesothelioma.