Risks of Talcum Powder
Q. What is talc?
A. Talc is a mineral, produced by the mining of talc rocks and then processed by crushing, drying and milling. Processing eliminates a number of trace minerals from the talc, but does not separate minute fibers which are very similar to asbestos.
Q. What kinds of consumer products contain talc?
A. Talc is found in a wide variety of consumer products ranging from home and garden pesticides to antacids. However, the products most widely used and that pose the most serious health risks are body powders Talc is the main ingredient in baby powder, medicated powders, perfumed powders and designer perfumed body powders. Because talc is resistant to moisture, it is also used by the pharmaceutical industry to manufacture medications and is a listed ingredient of some antacids. Talc is the principal ingredient home and garden pesticides and flea and tick powders. Talc is used in smaller quantities in deodorants, chalk, crayons, textiles, soap, insulating materials, paints, asphalt filler, paper, and in food processing.
Q. Why is talc harmful?
A. Talc is closely related to the potent carcinogen asbestos. Talc particles have been shown to cause tumors in the ovaries and lungs of cancer victims. For the last 30 years, scientists have closely scrutinized talc particles and found dangerous similarities to asbestos. Responding to this evidence in 1973, the FDA drafted a resolution that would limit the amount of asbestos-like fibers in cosmetic grade talc. However, no ruling has ever been made and today, cosmetic grade talc remains non-regulated by the federal government. This inaction ignores a 1993 National Toxicology Program report which found that cosmetic grade talc, without any asbestos-like fibers, caused tumors in animal subjects.1 Clearly with or without asbestos-like fibers, cosmetic grade talcum powder is a carcinogen.
Q. What kind of exposure is dangerous?
A. Talc is toxic. Talc particles cause tumors in human ovaries and lungs. Numerous studies have shown a strong link between frequent use of talc in the female genital area and ovarian cancer. Talc particles are able to move through the reproductive system and become imbedded in the lining of the ovary. Researchers have found talc particles in ovarian tumors and have found that women with ovarian cancer have used talcum powder in their genital area more frequently than healthy women.2
Talc poses a health risk when exposed to the lungs. Talc miners have shown higher rates of lung cancer and other respiratory illnesses from exposure to industrial grade talc, which contains dangerous silica and asbestos. The common household hazard posed by talc is inhalation of baby powder by infants. Since the early 1980s, records show that several thousand infants each year have died or become seriously ill following accidental inhalation of baby powder.3
Q. What about infants?
A. Talc is used on babies because it absorbs unpleasant moisture. Clearly, dusting with talcum powder endangers an infant's lungs at the prospect of inhalation. Exposing children to this carcinogen is unnecessary and dangerous.
ACTIONS YOU CAN TAKE:
1. Do not buy or use products containing talc. It is especially important that women not apply talc to underwear or sanitary pads.
2. Contact your pediatrician and/or local hospital and find out if they have a policy regarding talc use and infants.
3. Write to the FDA and express your concern that a proven carcinogen has remained unregulated while millions of people are unknowingly exposed.
1.National Toxicology Program. "Toxicology and carcinogenesis studies of talc (GAS No 14807-96-6) in F344/N rats and B6C3F, mice (Inhalation studies)." Technical Report Series No. 421. September 1993.
2. Harlow BL, Cramer DW, Bell DA, Welch WR. "Perineal exposure to talc and ovarian cancer risk." Obstetrics & Gynecology, 80: 19-26, 1992.
3. Hollinger MA. "Pulmonary toxicity of inhaled and intravenous talc." Toxicology Letters, 52:121-127, 1990.
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