Use of asbestos-contaminated talc in the manufacturing of talcum powder can be the major cause for the development of various cancers including mesothelioma, lung cancers and ovarian cancer. Due to its late latency period, it is hard to diagnose asbestos-related cancer (mesothelioma).

Talcum powder is prepared from the softest mineral, talc. The powdered form of talc perfectly absorb the moisture of the skin and induce softness, and smoothness in the skin. Recently, thousands of lawsuits have been filed against Johnson & Johnson's (specifically for its signature talcum powder) claiming that the talc used in this product is contaminated with carcinogen, asbestos.

Talcum powder has an extremely finely ground form of talc. Excessive and repeated application of powder elevate the chances of inhalation of asbestos, that in turn keep on depositing in the alveoli (tiny air sacs within the lungs that allow ventilation/ gaseous exchange) and airways of the lungs.

More the concentration of this asbestos in the lungs more are the chances of mesothelioma cancer development.

What is talc and Where Is It Used?

Chemically, talc is a hydrated form of magnesium silicate (simply a combination of magnesium, oxygen, and silicon) that is enormously used in various industries such as paper, cooking utensils,  paints, pharmaceuticals, ceramics, and cosmetics

The percentage purity of talc varies depending upon the industry it is being used in.

The chemical structure of the talc mineral determines its industrial use. Depending upon its physical form, rock talc or powdered/ ground form, its uses vary.

In solid rock form, talc is used to make table tops in science laboratories (using its heat resistance characteristics), electricity switchboards, and stoves.

In powdered form, it has numerous uses. Such as it is used by the basketball players to dry down the sweat from their hands. Cosmetics and pharmaceutical companies use this in personal care products as it has a high tendency to absorb moisture while simultaneously keep skin smoother and softer.

Talc is also used medically, where 99% pure talc is used to treat pleural effusion that is caused by mesothelioma cancer. This procedure is called as talc pleurodesis. For medical purposes, talc is first sterilized and make sure that it is free from any sort of asbestos contamination.

Talc used in the cosmetic industry is about 98% pure, however, in its most refined powder form, talc is used in baby powders and in this form of talcum powder it is most widely and excessively used.

The connection between Talc and Mesothelioma Occurrence

Current scientific studies have not shown any indication of mesothelioma occurrence with excessive use of pure talc. But the problem begins when the talc used to make cosmetics and pharmaceuticals products have contamination of asbestos fibers.

Excessive and continuous exposure to asbestos fibers is the main cause of the development of mesothelioma.

Geologically, minerals of both asbestos and talc occur in the same space and have the same conformation as well. Unfortunately, most of the cosmetic companies use talc from asbestos-contaminated mines. Major sites of these mines are in northern Italy, Alabama, North Carolina, and Vermont.

What Causes Cancer? Talc or Asbestos Containing Talc!

This topic has long been under research. Since the cases of a rare form of lung cancer, mesothelioma, started registering in the miners back in the 70s.

In a report published in 1978 showcasing the work presented at the workshop,  a detailed analysis of asbestos was presented. In this, a research work covered the comparison of pure talc and asbestos-contaminated talc in the miners.

Regarding the analysis done on miners who were diagnosed with mesothelioma the study quote 

"Rather characteristic was the presence of elongated, terminally clubbed bodies indistinguishable from asbestos bodies as seen in asbestosis" showing that asbestos exposure in the talc mines is the basic reason of mesothelioma cancer.

It is extremely important to mention the cosmetic products, that from where the talc is taken from making this product, as well as the chemical composition of the raw material.

In an analytical study published in the International Journal of Occupational and Environmental Health in 1994, the researchers wrote that,

"The specific geology of talc is an important indicator of whether a talc source may be contaminated with asbestos."

Additionally, this study highlighted major flaw harboring within the cosmetic industry, that the companies mix the talc that is contaminated with asbestos "with talc from another source to make it acceptable based on X-ray diffraction (XRD) protocols. "

Analyzing the samples taken from lung tissues of the deceased woman who died with mesothelioma, the researchers " found that a specific brand (the name is not mentioned in the study) of talcum powder contained identifiable asbestos fibers with the potential to be released into the air and inhaled during normal personal talcum powder application. We also found that asbestos fibers consistent with those found in the same cosmetic talc product were present in the lungs and lymph node tissues of a woman who used this brand of talc powder and developed and died from mesothelioma."

Another problem associated with the use of talcum powder and uncertainty of mesothelioma cancer development is that the latency period of asbestos-related diseases can be very long, ranging to decades.

And it is very difficult to pinpoint when was the body first exposed to asbestos. According to the studies, the development of mesothelioma cancer may take more than 70 years to show its symptoms.

People belonging to certain occupations such as mine workers, dock workers, and insulator workers, who deal with the asbestos-contaminated equipment all the time have more chances of developing mesothelioma cancer soon. As they'll have a less latency period of asbestos because of its intense daily exposure.

Most of the talcum powder companies who are claiming to date that their products are not causative agents of mesothelioma or other cancers related to asbestos exposure are neglecting the fact that the latency period of asbestos-related diseases can take decades to develop cancer.

Prohibition of Talcum Powder Use by Different Professional  Associations

According to the American Cancer Society- ACS, the Cosmetic, Toiletry, and Fragrances Association- CTFA which has now changed its name to Personal Care Product Council, issued a guideline in 1976, regarding the use of talc in the cosmetics products in US, stating that talc used in these products must be free from asbestos contamination.

Due to its damaging effects on the body, American Academy of Paediatrics forbids the use of talcum powders on the babies.