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The findings of a new study appear to confirm concerns about the health risks from asebstos in talcum powder, indicating that traces of the toxic fibers found in some cosmetic talc-based products may cause a fatal form of lung cancer known as mesothelioma, which is only known to result from asbestos exposure.
Researchers from Peninsula Pathology Associates in Virginia published a study this week in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine, which warns that mesothelioma can develop following exposure to anthophyllite and tremolite asbestos contaminants in cosmetic talcum powder. The findings come just days after federal regulators reported that they found multiple instances of asbestos contamination in talcum powder products last year.
Mesothelioma is a rare and deadly form of cancer, which is only known to occur as a result of exposure to asbestos particles. In many cases, the cancer has developed among individuals exposed to asbestos decades ago, or among family members of workers in certain industries, where the fibers were carried home on their clothes or in their hair.
In this latest study, researchers looked at data on 75 individuals, including 64 women and 11 men, who developed malignant mesothelioma. For all of the subjects, their only known exposure to asbestos was through the repeated use of cosmetic talcum powders. The researchers were able to exam 11 of the patients for asbestiform fibers.
Of the 75 subjects, the mean age at diagnosis was 61. Most had been exposed for about 33 years. In 12 cases, the individuals were less than 45 years old.
Researchers were able to find asbestiform fibers in all 11 subjects they were able to medically exam. All 11 showed the presence of either anthophyllite and/or tremolite asbestos.
“Mesotheliomas can develop following exposures to cosmetic talcum powders,” the researchers concluded. “These appear to be attributable to the presence of anthophyllite and tremolite contaminants in cosmetic talcum powder.”
The FDA has been testing cosmetic talcum powder products throughout 2019, and continues to do so. On March 9, the agency released the findings from its 2019 investigation, revealing that out of 43 samples from cosmetic products tested, nine were positive for asbestos.
However, the FDA indicates that no new talc asbestos contamination announcements are being made at this time, as those announcements were issued as soon as the samples were tested. This included recalls of Claire’s cosmetics products in March 2019, as well as a very high profile Johnson & Johnson Baby Powder recall issued in October.
Much of the attention to date has been on the alleged presence of asbestos in Johnson & Johnson talcum powder products.
Johnson & Johnson currently faces about 18,000 Baby Powder lawsuits and Shower-to-Shower lawsuits pending in courts nationwide, each raising similar claims the manufacturer has known for decades their products may contain asbestos and increase the risk of cancer, yet failed to warn consumers.
While most of the claims involve women diagnosed with ovarian cancer following years of talcum powder use, a smaller number involve individuals diagnosed with mesothelioma, which is a rare and particularly deadly form of cancer that is only known to occur as a result of asbestos exposure.
The company also currently faces a criminal probe into what it knew about asbestos being in its talcum powder products and when it knew of the risk.
Most of the U.S. litigation is currently pending in the federal court system, where a U.S. District Judge is currently evaluating whether expert witness testimony proposed by plaintiffs is sufficiently reliable to permit the cases to proceed to trial.
If Johnson & Johnson is unable to disqualify plaintiffs expert witnesses under the federal Daubert standard, it is expected that a series of “bellwether” cases will be scheduled for trial, which will increase pressure on the manufacturer to consider negotiating more wide-scale talcum powder cancer settlements to avoid thousands of individual cases going before juries.