Asbestos exposure is the leading cause of work-related deaths in the world, responsible for prematurely ending the lives of approximately 90,000 people globally each year. [SOURCE]
Banned in at least 60 countries around the world, it may come as a surprise to hear that not only is asbestos still legal in the U.S., a recent study by The Scientific Analytical Institute, of Greensboro, N.C., a preeminent lab for testing consumer products for the presence of asbestos, reveals that 15% of cosmetics that contain talc are tainted with asbestos.
Asbestos is a cancer-causing mineral. No safe level of asbestos exposure for humans has been established. Found naturally in the Earth in close proximity to talc mineral, asbestos particles may find their way into crushed talcum powder.
The testing of the talc-based cosmetics was conducted by The Environmental Working Group (EWG), a non-partisan organization dedicated to protecting human health and the environment. The non-profit also recently released a report that shows that many popular brands of hummus contain glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup Weed Killer.
Results of the study were published in the journal, Environmental Health Insights, and calls out the outdated, inaccurate methods of asbestos screening and detection that are employed by cosmetic manufacturers.
The EWG maintains a popular cosmetics database, Skin Deep, where, for free, users can enter a brand-name cosmetic product. Skin Deep provides a ranking of 1-10 based on toxicity. The higher the number, the more toxic the product. The Skin Deep database has identified more than 2,000 personal care products that contain talc. This includes over 1,000 loose or pressed powders that could pose an inhalation risk. Inhaling talcum powder has been linked to mesothelioma, a cancer of the lining of the lungs or other organs.
Women who use talcum baby powder in the genital area may be at a higher risk of developing ovarian cancer. Because of declining sales and negative publicity surrounding talcum powder cancer lawsuits, Johnson & Johnson pulled its iconic talcum baby powder off the market in the U.S. and Canada earlier this year.
“It’s troubling to think how many Americans have been using talc-based cosmetics products potentially contaminated with asbestos,” said Nneka Leiba, EWG vice president for Healthy Living Science, in a press release.
The EWG questions the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) policy of not requiring mandatory testing of talc supplies. Instead, the cosmetic industry is left to test its products voluntarily. EWG maintains the method many cosmetic companies use to screen for asbestos is not sensitive enough, in comparison to electron microscopy.
Sean Fitzgerald, who heads the Scientific Analytical Institute, the lab that the EWG commissioned to screen for asbestos in cosmetics, said in the release, “It is critical that the FDA develop a rigorous screening method for talc used in personal care products.” Fitzgerald added, “The [Scientific Analytical Institute] lab repeatedly finds asbestos in products made with talc, including cosmetics marketed to children. It’s outrageous that a precise method for testing personal care products for the presence of asbestos exists, but the cosmetics industry isn’t required to use it.”
As to why the cosmetics industry isn’t more regulated, Scott Faber, EWG’s senior vice president for government affairs points to the fact that federal law regulating the cosmetics industry has not been updated in over 70 years. The last time was in 1938. “It’s long past time for Congress to pass legislation mandating that all talc-based personal care products be rigorously tested and the cosmetics industry be required to put the public’s safety first,” said Faber in the release. Recently, a bipartisan bill that would have outlawed talc in the U.S. seemed like it was going to pass a House vote. Unfortunately, for the health and safety of American consumers, that legislation is currently stalled due to bipartisan bickering. Democrats accuse Republican lawmakers of blocking efforts to ensure that talc litigation continues (presumably, against Johnson & Johnson). For their part, Republicans maintain that allowing talc legislation to proceed merely enriches trial lawyers.