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Asbestos in Talc and Makeup

The importation and new use of asbestos was finally banned in the UK in 1999 , more than 60 years after the first regulations to protect asbestos workers came into force here. In the intervening period, there was developing awareness amongst asbestos product manufacturers that the products they were peddling for enormous global corporate profit had potentially deadly consequences for anyone exposed to asbestos dust and fibres. This industry research was deliberately hidden.

In October 1965, the front page of the Sunday Times carried an article featuring the recently publicised Merewether & Price report on research which had confirmed the risk to workers and their families of their developing mesothelioma, an asbestos related cancer of the lining of the lung (and other organs), from exposure to even low levels of asbestos dust.

By the 1980s, increasing numbers of people who had previously been exposed to asbestos dust were dying of mesothelioma. Faced with mounting evidence, in order to be able to continue selling their deadly products, the industry promulgated the myth that whilst blue and brown asbestos dust might potentially be harmful when inhaled, chrysotile (white asbestos) was “safe”. This corporate deception has since been undermined by the ongoing toll of asbestos deaths in people who can have only been exposed to white asbestos dust.

Asbestos in Talc

In the UK, we may have taken comfort in the 1999 ban from the further import or production of asbestos products. Little did we know though that products, which we would never have expected to contain asbestos fibres, have continued to be imported and sold to us by trusted household brands. We are talking here about talcum body power and powder make-up products.

Here’s the rub: asbestos, a fibrous, naturally occurring mineral, is frequently found alongside talc. They are “companion minerals”. In certain talc mines in some countries, including Canada, the United States and Italy, manufacturers of talcum body powers sourced their talc, milled it, packaged it, marketed it and sold it to us consumers around the world. The problem was that unbeknown to us, some of the talc was contaminated with asbestos fibres, so while we were powdering ourselves and our children, we may inadvertently have been getting a lung full of asbestos fibres in the process.

Why didn’t the manufacturers know and stop this? In the 1960s at the latest, the manufacturer of perhaps the world’s favourite and most trusted talc brand, was appraised of the situation but decided not to waste all that gorgeous product and profit and so diluted their talc with “clean” talc and continued to sell it with impunity. This has been revealed in the course of a vast number of legal claims being brought against Johnson & Johnson in the United States.

In the last few years, individuals and families of people who claimed they had used asbestos contaminated Johnson & Johnson baby power and as a result, developed mesothelioma, have brought claims against the company in America. Johnson & Johnson have always denied their talc was contaminated with asbestos fibres. Similar claims have been brought against other well-known manufacturers of talcum power. Some of those claims have been settled or won at trial, but Johnson & Johnson kept fighting.

During 2021, the pharmaceutical giant transferred their legal liabilities in respect of talc claims to a subsidiary company, LTL Management and in November 2021, the subsidiary declared itself unable to meet the claims against it and so began the long process of Chapter 11 Bankruptcy, bringing all current claims to a halt and preventing further claims being brought for the foreseeable. Meanwhile, Johnson & Johnson continues to trade and to make its medical products, including COVID-19 vaccines. You would be forgiven for finding all this shocking.

Of course, not all Johnson & Johnson baby power would have been contaminated with asbestos fibres but in 2020, it was reported that the US.Food and Drug Administration Agency (FDA) had tested some of Johnson & Johnson’s baby talc on sale to the public at that time and found it contained asbestos fibres. Asbestos is not banned in the USA, though campaign groups such as ADAO continue to fight for such a ban.

Back in the UK, product liability claims are generally brought under the Consumer Protection Act 1987. The Act retains the standard 3 year (from injury or knowledge) limitation period for claims of personal injury caused by a defective product. In relation to asbestos diseases, the period between exposure to asbestos fibres and onset of a disease is said to be a minimum of 10 years and, in the case of mesothelioma, 40 to 60 years is not unusual. Consequently, the Act does not help asbestos sufferers who may wish to sue manufacturers of asbestos contaminated products in the UK.

What about talc sold in the UK? Only in the past few years, have UK consumers of talc who have developed mesothelioma, sought to bring claims in the American Courts, represented by US attorneys. The claims usually face the defence of “Forum Non Conveniens” (essentially that the claim is being brought in the wrong country) particularly where the British citizen has never set foot in the USA. However, even a very short visit to the States has been sufficient to establish jurisdiction for the relevant state Courts to hear the claims. Some cases have been settled but the number of claims continues to rise, as awareness is raised.

Asbestos in Makeup

So what is the problem with make-up? Many power-based make up products, be it foundation, loose power, bronzer, blusher or eye shadow, contain talc and so carry the risk of also carrying asbestos fibres.

In early 2019, the FDA confirmed the presence of asbestos in three make-up products made for and sold by Claire’s Accessories, a US chain and UK high street fixture, beloved of young girls, in particular. Several products were quickly withdrawn from sale. The Third episode of a BBC3 documentary, “Beauty Laid Bare” which screened on 2 February 2020, highlighted a problem with asbestos contaminated talc in the products of several well-known and trusted cosmetic brands being sold here in the UK.

We work with American attorneys to investigate these claims in America, so please do contact us if you or someone close to you has developed mesothelioma and has used talcum powder or talc based make-up products.

As a past user of talcum powder and a current wearer of powder make-up, I was so concerned about the risk, that I disposed of my power based products and began scrutinising the ingredients list on new products I was buying, avoiding any including talc, even though the damage may already have been done. I have opted instead for cream based products.

Few brands have openly acknowledged the risk of asbestos contamination in make-up products, replacing talc with corn starch or, in the case of Victoria Beckham Beauty, certifying the talc in her products is “asbestos free”. Mostly, there is a conspiracy of silence around the subject and many cosmetic companies continue to make profits on the back of consumers innocently using their products. After all, the global cosmetics industry was estimated to be worth $603 billion in 2021. Surely it is time our Government health agencies woke up to the scale of the problem and took action to ban the import of these products in the UK? Time will tell.

Millions of people have been exposed to asbestos fibres in the UK from various sources, including in talc and powder make-up products. It is important to know though, that not everyone will go on to develop mesothelioma. No- one knows who the victims will be in future years but we can all take positive action now to protect ourselves, our family and friends by not buying such products in the first place. As consumers, we can force change and in doing so, protect our health.

Asbestos Compensation Claims

If you or anyone you know has been diagnosed with mesothelioma, our expert solicitors can help, contact us on 0808 252 5231 for free advice about Government benefits and compensation.