Asbestos, the only known mesothelioma cause in the U.S., is associated with industrial uses. Because of its ability to withstand heat, asbestos was a go-to component for many manufactured products where heat resistance would be helpful. Car brakes and brake pads, home and building insulation contained asbestos. Thousands of tons of asbestos were used in World War II ships to insulate piping, boilers, steam engines, and steam turbines.
These uses of asbestos suggest occupations held primarily by men. In a report called The Asbestos Epidemic in America, the Environmental Working Group states,” Asbestos kills thousands more people than skin cancer each year, and nearly the number that are slain in assaults with firearms. The suite of diseases linked to asbestos exposure overwhelmingly affect older men.” The report goes on to say that even a tiny amount of asbestos can be lethal and that “asbestos diseases have a 20 to 50 year latency period, meaning that a substantial portion of individuals exposed in the 1960s and 1970s are just now showing up as disease or mortality statistics.”
Now new research published in the September issue of the International Journal of Occupational Environmental Health, suggests that the use of talcum powder may be a mesothelioma cause in women.
The research focuses on the use of one brand of talcum powder by a woman who had recently died.
“This brand of talcum powder contained asbestos and the application of talcum powder released inhalable asbestos fibers. Lung and lymph node tissues removed at autopsy revealed pleural mesothelioma,” the published report states. “Through many applications of this particular brand of talcum powder, the deceased inhaled asbestos fibers, which then accumulated in her lungs and likely caused or contributed to her mesothelioma as well as other women with the same scenario.”
But talc is not only in talcum powder. It is commonly found in eye shadow, baby powder, face powder, and other loose-mineral cosmetics, where it’s used as an absorbent, anti-caking agent.
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) states on its website it is “unacceptable” for cosmetic talc to be contaminated with asbestos. “To prevent contamination of talc with asbestos, it is essential to select talc mining sites carefully and take steps to purify the ore sufficiently.”
FDA reports that from 2008 to 2010 because of safety concerns, it studied talc from four talc suppliers and 38 talc-containing cosmetic products purchased in retail stores. These included eye shadow, blush, foundation, face powder, and body powder.
The analysis found no asbestos in any of the samples of cosmetic-grade raw material talc or cosmetic products containing talc. However FDA cautions that the results “do not prove that most or all talc or talc-containing cosmetic products currently marketed in the United States are likely to be free of asbestos contamination.”