The U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) will convene a public hearing next week to discuss possible methods for talc-asbestos testing.
The agency announced the February 4th meeting after a panel of eight government agencies – including the U.S. Geological Survey and National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health – recommended that the FDA adopt asbestos testing standards for talc-based powders and cosmetics.
According to Reuters, the hearing will be the first to focus on talc-asbestos testing since 1971.
Both talc and asbestos are naturally occurring minerals often found in close proximity to each other. Asbestos, however, is a known carcinogen linked to the development of mesothelioma.
Because there is a possibility that talc might become contaminated with asbestos, talc mining sites must be selected carefully and raw talc must be tested for the toxic mineral before being used in talcum powder and cosmetics.
The government panel’s talc-asbestos testing recommendations were posted to the FDA’s website earlier this month.
Among other things, the panel advised that any mineral particles found in talc products small enough to enter the lungs – even those the industry would not call asbestos – be considered potentially harmful. As both asbestos and look-alike minerals are suspected of causing “similar pathological outcomes, the distinction is irrelevant,” the document states.
The panel also recommended that talcum powder and other talc-based cosmetics be tested with the most sensitive methods available, as there is no safe level of asbestos.
Reuters noted that the recommendations endorsed by the government panel “reject long-held industry positions and reflect those of public health authorities and experts for plaintiffs who allege contaminated talc products caused their cancers.”
Johnson & Johnson, the manufacturer of Baby Powder, is currently defending thousands of talcum powder lawsuits involving ovarian cancer and mesothelioma.
Adam Zimmerman, a professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, told Reuters the recommendations could strengthen plaintiffs’ cases, especially since they came from “experts looking out for public safety who don’t have any skin in the game.”
The FDA has largely allowed the talc cosmetics industry to regulate itself.
But in 2018, the agency was criticized for convening a closed hearing, at which time industry-linked experts downplayed the potential hazard of talc contamination with asbestos look-alike minerals.
That December, Reuters reported that Johnson & Johnson’s own internal documents indicated the company’s raw talc and finished powders had periodically tested positive for traces of asbestos as far back as 1971. However, Johnson & Johnson officials never informed the FDA or warned consumers because of concern that such a revelation would undermine the company’s “caring image.”
In October, Johnson & Johnson announced a voluntary recall for 33,000 bottles of Baby Powder in response to FDA tests that had found sub-traces of asbestos in a single bottle. The company characterized the Baby Powder recall as precautionary and maintains its own testing found no trace of asbestos in the same bottle. However, the FDA continues to stand by its findings.