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FDA Panel: Any Amount of Asbestos in Talc Is Harmful

The presence of asbestos in talc powder has been at the heart of a slew of lawsuits filed against Johnson & Johnson with regard to their Baby Powder and Shower to Shower products. Consumers who have filed product liability lawsuits against the company say that their long-term exposure to talc powder led them to develop life-threatening ovarian cancer and mesothelioma. Amidst the litigation, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) convened a panel of experts to consider methods of testing for the presence of asbestos in talcum powder. The panel concluded that the exposure to any amount of asbestos—even trace amounts—is too dangerous when there is a possibility of inhalation.

FDA hearing on testing of talc powder for asbestos

The FDA hearing was held earlier in February 2020. It was intended as a forum to allow experts to come together, share their findings, and discuss the scientific implications of their talc testing methodologies. The panel of experts was charged with establishing criteria that would establish uniform protocols for the measurement of asbestos present in cosmetic products, including Baby Powder.

This hearing came on the heels of the release of the FDA’s Interagency Working Group on Asbestos in Consumer Product’s preliminary recommendations. This committee, which formed in 2018, recommended certain testing procedures and standard terminology. Most notably, the group stated that even if mineral particles present in talc do not qualify as asbestos, they should be considered dangerous to consumers if they are small enough to be inhaled into the lungs. The group also noted that particles that are structurally similar to asbestos can be just as harmful as asbestos.

Issues with talc powder testing

The testing of talc powder for asbestos has been a contentious issue with high stakes. In 2019, the FDA undertook testing of 50 cosmetic products that all contain talc powder.  The agency stated that it found the presence of chrysotile asbestos in certain products, which prompted a recall of Johnson & Johnson’s Baby Powder. That recall was issued in October of last year and it affected about 33,000 bottles.

However, Johnson & Johnson took issue with the FDA’s lab results, stating that its own labs also tested the products and did not find any evidence of asbestos. It was later determined that these batches of tests were questionable and had to be repeated. The second batch of tests also did not find asbestos, according to the company. However, the FDA is standing by the results acquired by its own scientists, despite the company’s attempt to dispute them.

Thousands of lawsuits are pending against Johnson & Johnson

Currently, there are roughly 15,000 product liability lawsuits pending against Johnson & Johnson with regard to their talc powder products. Most of the lawsuits were filed on behalf of women who used talc powder for years for feminine hygiene purposes. It is alleged that the talc particles, which may have included asbestos, are able to migrate upward to the ovaries, where they may increase the risk of ovarian cancer. Other lawsuits allege that the inhalation of the talc powder led to the development of mesothelioma—another type of cancer.


U.S. News & World Report, U.S. Government Experts, Industry Spar Over Asbestos Testing in Talc,

FDA, Talc,