Study Finds Likely Link between Talc with Asbestos and Mesothelioma

A new study looks at asbestos-contaminated talc products.

A new study found the same types of asbestos fibers both in a certain brand of talcum powder and in the body of a woman who died of the asbestos-related cancer mesothelioma after having used that brand of powder during her lifetime.

Contaminated talc in consumer products

Talc is the softest mineral on earth, mined around the world for use in a wide variety of products personal, cosmetic or industrial in nature. Sometimes talc comes from mines contaminated with asbestos that can make it into those common products.

Asbestos is a microscopic mineral that when inhaled causes deadly cancers like mesothelioma, a terminal cancer that invades the linings around the lungs, heart, and abdominal cavity.

The new talc-asbestos study

The new study published in the October 2014 International Journal of Occupational and Environmental Health is explained in a detailed article in by Andrew Schneider, an investigative journalist who won the Pulitzer Prize twice. Schneider, who calls the study's findings "explosive," points out that for many years, some women have had mesothelioma without obvious sources for the likely causative agent, asbestos.

The study looked at the lung and lymph node tissues of a deceased female mesothelioma victim, comparing them to the composition of a common talcum powder product she had used, finding the same types of asbestos fibers in each.

They also traced the asbestos in the talc to the specific mines from which it came.

In addition, the researchers studied the type of exposure a person would have to asbestos in typical use of contaminated talcum powder. In one experiment, they created a space similar to a small bathroom in which they conducted simulations of the typical talcum powder use. For example, people using respiratory protection applied talcum powder by hand from a shaken container and with a powder puff, after which the air was tested. Airborne asbestos fragments in concentrated levels were present in the area where the person applying the product would breathe them in.

In the study, the researchers write: "Our findings indicate that historic talcum powder exposure is a causative factor in the development of mesotheliomas and possibly lung cancers in women ... [and] provide evidence that low concentrations of asbestos in raw materials do not necessarily correlate to low health risk."

Experts also link asbestos-contaminated talc products to ovarian cancer.

Keywords: study, talc, talcum powder, asbestos, mesothelioma, ovarian cancer