Talcum Powder and Mesothelioma Cancer Connection
Talc is a very popular product that is found as an ingredient in personal products like baby powder and soap, in electronics, in ceramics, as a precision machinery industrial lubricant, and more. Talc is not a dangerous material on its own, although there is some suggestion that, in susceptible people, it may cause cancer. However, the link is very weak at present, which is also why the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has listed it as GRAS (generally recognized as safe).
Unfortunately, it has been found that some talc have been contaminated with tremolite, which is a form of amphibole asbestos. Tremolite is a mixture of blue (crocidolite) and brown (amosite) asbestos. Both of these have been shown to be very carcinogenic. However, tremolite on its own has never been commercially processed or mined.
Tremolite and talc are metamorphic substances. The same geologic process created these substances, and they are both a type of magnesium silicate. As such, where we find talc, we usually also find tremolite and vice versa. However, because tremolite was never mind commercially, most people did not realize that they were being exposed to tremolite. Furthermore, when talc was mined, it became unwittingly, but heavily, contaminated by the asbestos fibers of tremolite.
It is now known that talc is often contaminated with tremolite. As a result, it has to go through stringent inspections. However, talc miners continue to be exposed to tremolite. It has been found, for instance, that it was present in a Virginia talc mine, and in children’s art supplies made from talc mined in upstate New York. The miners from that particular mine have also noted to have far above average rates of asbestos disease diagnoses.
Why Talc Products Are Dangerous
It is believed that talc in itself is harmless, which is why it has GRAS status with the FDA. In reality, however, we are now starting to see just how dangerous it is. When asbestos fibers are inhaled, which is very likely in talc mines, people are at risk of developing malignant mesothelioma, and a range of other asbestos-related illnesses, such as asbestosis and lung cancer as well. It is believed that those who worked in talc mines during the 20th century are at the highest risk of having been exposed to asbestos, and therefore, in developing asbestos-related cancers, many due to the link between tremolite and mesothelioma.
Moreover, it seems that there is more to it as well. According to the American Cancer Society, there have now been several studies that link talcum to various other forms of cancer. While this research is still limited, and while there is, in some cases, some confusion about whether the cancers were caused by talc exposure or by tremolite exposure, it is believed that there are links with ovarian cancer, lung cancer, endometrial cancer, and stomach cancer.
Besides the FDA, the International Agency for Research on Cancer has listed talc as possibly carcinogenic to humans in certain situations. Meanwhile, the U.S. National Toxicology Program (NTP) continues to research the substance.
Asbestos in Baby Powder
When it became understood that a lot of talc had been contaminated with tremolite, people became concerned about the domestic use of talc products, including baby powder. A lot of the talc used in baby powder comes from mines in upstate New York, California, Montana, and New England. The greatest controversy is around the New York mine, which is owned by the R.T. Vanderbilt Company. They deny that any tremolite is found in their talc products. Furthermore, they state that their mines do not produce talc that is of a cosmetic grade, which is what is used in baby powder. However, in a 2004 report by the U.S. Geological Survey, it was found that Death Valley, CA’s talc deposit contained significantly elevated levels of tremolite.
Since then, a number of allegations and legal cases have been started against manufacturers of baby powder and a range of other types of talc products, stating that they were contaminated with tremolite. As a result, manufacturers have now put in some measures and steps in place to lower the chance of contamination. Unfortunately, a lot of people purchase cheaper talc products from unregulated countries. They have less oversight and fewer environmental regulations, which means that the chance of contamination is much greater.
Are Baby Powder Products Dangerous?
The world is on tenterhooks about the possibility of asbestos-related cancers as a result of using talc products such as baby powder, which almost everybody used. It is a known fact that the latency period of asbestos related illnesses is very long. Unfortunately, it is indeed possible that some babies – and their parents – were exposed to asbestos, and it is possible that they will develop asbestos-related illnesses in the 50 years after exposure.
That being said, the highest risk of developing mesothelioma and other asbestos-related illnesses is found in miners. They worked in dusty environments that are now known to contain tremolite. While today, talc can be mined safely thanks to modern safety equipment and procedures, reducing or even eliminating asbestos exposure, these tools and techniques are relatively new. Furthermore, those who worked in the mines before this type of equipment and these safety procedures are more likely to have been exposed, and may therefore still develop asbestos-related illnesses.
Talc powder is usually applied to a baby’s body near their mucous membranes. Furthermore, adults often use the powder on their face. As a result, it is important to be realistic and know that there is a chance that asbestos fibers have been absorbed by the body, and may still cause asbestos related illnesses. Unfortunately, there is very little scientific information available right now about the etiology of talc-induced asbestos-related illnesses. Scientists are considering whether it could be a cause of testicular mesothelioma, one of the rarest forms of the cancer. The reason why this research doesn’t exist yet is because it has only recently been known that talc has been contaminated with tremolite in certain mines. Because of the lengthy latency period, it may take many more years before any research can take place, and people who believe they may have been exposed to tremolite in talc powder are asked to monitor their symptoms in case they start to develop an asbestos-related illness.