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Reuters: FDA deferred to industry over asbestos in talc products

The Food and Drug Administration admits there is no safe level of asbestos contamination or exposure. Yet for years, the FDA relied upon the cosmetics industry's promises that their talc-based products don't contain enough asbestos to be dangerous.

The cosmetic industry also said that what looked like asbestos was probably another type of microscopic rock splinter, but many health agencies now presume that all microscopic rock splinters similar to asbestos are toxins and could cause the same health problems as asbestos. Just what possible toxins talc should be tested for is a topic of contention, but splinters or fibers with characteristics similar to asbestos could cause similar problems.

Johnson & Johnson is one manufacturer of talc products that are allegedly tainted by asbestos. It insists its talc products are safe, and that any asbestos contamination found was caused by accidental exposure to asbestos in the environment. Yet researchers have long known that asbestos and talc, both naturally occurring minerals, are often found in the same deposit. Some theories suggest the contamination occurs during the mining process.

Some juries have found that hygiene products containing talc may be tainted with asbestos and, when they are, that contamination has caused ovarian cancer or mesothelioma.

Has the FDA been too cozy with industry?

Recently, Reuters issued a long-form report on how the FDA regulates asbestos in talc-based consumer products such as makeup and hygiene products. The reporters allege the FDA has been petitioned to address asbestos in talc-based cosmetics for decades. However, in each case, the agency relied heavily on the opinions of geologists and industry groups when denying those petitions.

This apparent pro-industry bias extended to a recent conference sponsored by the FDA. It was an invitation-only event late last year called the "Asbestos in Talc Symposium." Of the 21 non-government participants, Reuters found that 17 had either worked for talc companies, had performed lab tests for the industry or had worked as expert witnesses for the industry. Of those 21, only five were expert witnesses for plaintiffs.

The FDA insists it has no authority to force cosmetics companies to test their talc for asbestos and report the results back to the agency. And despite decades of concerns and complaints, it has only conducted its own tests recently. Those tests found asbestos in at least one sample of Johnson & Johnson's baby powder.

Has the FDA been too cozy with the cosmetics industry when analyzing the dangers of asbestos in talc? Read Reuters' entire report and see what you think.

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