Examining Carcinogens in Talc and the Best Methods for Asbestos Detection

Tuesday, December 10, 2019 - 1:00pm
2154 Rayburn House Office Building, Washington, DC 20515
“Examining Carcinogens in Talc and the Best Methods for Asbestos Detection”




The hearing will examine health risks related to use of talcum powders containing asbestos, and detection methods that bolster public health.


  • On October 18, 2019, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced that it had detected asbestos in one lot of Johnson & Johnson’s baby powder and that the company voluntarily recalled the product. FDA warned consumers to discontinue the use of bottles from the tested lot. 
  • FDA’s announcement resulted in Johnson & Johnson recalling nearly 33,000 bottles of baby powder in the United States.  Since the recall, Johnson & Johnson has attempted to impugn the integrity of FDA’s positive test results.
  • The company claims that “thousands of tests over the past forty years repeatedly confirm that our consumer talc products do not contain asbestos.”  However, internal Johnson & Johnson memos from 1971 reveal the company knew its talc-based baby powder potentially contained asbestos.  The senior staffer who authored the memo recommended Johnson & Johnson “upgrade” its scrutiny of talc safety. 
  • Industry methods for detecting asbestos in talc primarily involve two testing methods: polarized light microscopy (PLM), and the use of an analytical transmission electron microscope (ATEM). Both PLM and ATEM have been criticized for lacking proper sensitivity to detect very low levels of asbestos contamination.  Laboratories with which industry and FDA contract to do asbestos detection in talc testing almost entirely rely upon these methods. 
  • Since the 1960s, scientists have identified a link between ovarian cancer and the use of powders containing talc.  The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) reports that talc-containing asbestos is carcinogenic to humans and can cause mesothelioma. IARC also concludes that use of talc-containing baby powder in the perineal (genital) region could be carcinogenic to humans. 
  • The FDA, the World Health Organization, and numerous other public health organizations do not recognize any safe or acceptable amount of asbestos in talc.


Panel One

Mr. Alex Gorsky 
Chief Executive Officer, Johnson & Johnson

Panel Two

Dr. William Longo
Scientist, Materials Analytical Services, LLC

    Dr. Professor Rod Metcalf
    Geologist, University of Nevada-Las Vegas

    Dr. Jacqueline Moline
    Physician, Feinstein Institutes for Medical Research at Northwell Health

    Mr. David Etheridge 

        116th Congress