Asbestos in Baby Powder
The main ingredient of baby powder is talc. This mineral is mined throughout the world; in the U.S., much of this material comes from operations in upstate New York and New England, with other talc mines located in Montana and California.
Although there is some controversy over the asbestos content of talc mined in New York (the R.T. Vanderbilt Company, which operates talc mines in the area, denies the presence of tremolite in their talc product and states that those mines do not produce the cosmetic grade of talc used in baby powder), a 2004 U.S. Geological Survey reports that talc deposits in Death Valley, California were found to contain a "considerable proportion of tremolite."
Since allegations of tremolite contamination in baby powder and other talc products have come to light, many of the domestic companies involved in talc production have taken steps to minimize the dangers of such contamination. However, talc products from China and other nations, where there are fewer environmental regulations and less oversight, continue to enter the country.
Hazards Associated with Baby Powder Products
While it is possible that some infants and children may have been exposed to asbestos-contaminated talc in baby powder, the largest risk of exposure was likely suffered by those working in the mines where tremolite asbestos could be found along with talc. Although modern safety equipment is effective and can greatly reduce the risk of asbestos exposure, miners and mine workers had little equipment, for decades, to offer protection from asbestos fibers found in the mine.
Because talc baby powder is generally applied to areas of a child’s body which contain mucous membranes, and because adult users of baby powder often use it around their face, the absorption of asbestos into the body through baby powder cannot be discounted. Little information is available concerning the etiology of asbestos-related diseases that begin in this manner, in part because the contamination of talc deposits with tremolite is a relatively recent discovery. Individuals who have used baby powder in childhood, or as adults, should be aware that they may have been exposed to some level of asbestos and could be at risk for developing mesothelioma or other asbestos-related conditions.Sources
Bowker, Michael. Fatal Deception: The Untold Story of Asbestos (New York: Touchstone, 2003)
R.T. Vanderbilt Company Website. "New York Tremolitic Talc and Asbestos"
(http://www.rtvanderbilt.com/nytalc.htm). Retrieved 3 January 2011.
Van Gosen, Bradley et. al. "A USGS Study of Talc Deposits and Associated Amphibole Asbestos Within Mined Deposits of the Southern Death Valley Region, California." Open File Report 2004.