Talc Cancer Victims Get Their Day on Capitol Hill
“Let’s be clear: There is no question that exposure to asbestos is hazardous to human health.”
This remark made by Subcommittee Chairman Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-IL) during his opening statement set the tone for what would follow over the next two hours.
The first hearing of the newly-seated House Subcommittee on Economic and Consumer Policy was held on Tuesday, March 12, and chose to focus on a public health threat that has garnered bipartisan support: carcinogens in consumer talcum powder products.
Among those testifying was Marvin Salter, the son of a “true fan” of Johnson & Johnson’s Baby Powder. Marvin’s mother was diagnosed with late-stage ovarian cancer in 2013 and did not live to see the trial in 2016 that awarded her family $72 million. During his testimony, Marvin urged the subcommittee to use their power to help women like his mother.
Talc is used in several consumer products like Johnson & Johnson Baby Powder and are often contaminated with asbestos, a known carcinogen. Scientists have known of a possible link between ovarian cancer and the use of powders containing talc since the 1960s.
In addition to hearing from talc cancer victims, the subcommittee also heard testimony regarding the scientific evidence linking talc and cancer. Dr. Anne McTiernan, an epidemiologist from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, used a meta-analysis of 38 scientific studies conducted over the past 40 years and testified that talcum powder significantly increases the risk of cancer.
“Women need to know about the risks of using talcum powder products in their genital areas,” McTiernan said. “All consumers need to be warned about the contents of these products, including asbestos and fibrous talc, so that they can make informed decisions about use.”
Chairman Krishnamoorthi also shined a light on the way consumer goods like cosmetics and personal care items can skirt regulation that drugs and medical devices are subject to.
“The FDA cannot order any manufacturers to recall these personal care or cosmetics products that potentially contain asbestos,” Krishnamoorthi said. “The question is, why? Because a loophole in the statute that empowers the FDA to regulate personal care products and cosmetics does not allow the FDA to require necessary recalls.”
By law, companies do not have to disclose adverse events related to their cosmetic or personal care products, and recalls and warning labels are issued on a voluntary basis.
Company marketing practices were also called into question, as the subcommittee cited an internal memorandum in which Johnson & Johnson sought to “investigate ethic opportunities to grow the franchise,” regarding the high usage rate among people of color.
Ultimately, the subcommittee intends to inquire further about the safety of talc, and plans to evaluate steps taken by other countries to keep carcinogens out of personal care products. Legislation moves slowly, but customers are continuing to take legal action, a fact that is not lost on Chairman Krishnamoorthi.
“Juries across America are not waiting for Congress to act,” he said.