"Nondetected": The Politics of Measurement of Asbestos in Talc, 1971–1976

David Rosner, PhD, MPH; Gerald Markowitz, PhD; Merlin Chowkwanyun, PhD, MPH

Disclosures

Am J Public Health. 2019;109(7):969-974. 

In This Article

Conclusion: Legacy of the CTFA Campaign

By 1977, the FDA essentially gave up its efforts to regulate asbestos in talc, as the J4-1 method created by the CTFA had been adopted by the industry despite the CTFA's own acknowledgment that its methodology was inadequate to the task. John Schelz of Johnson & Johnson, who was chair of the CTFA Taskforce on Round Robin Testing of Consumer Talcum Products, reported on a round robin test of samples of talc and found that J4-1 had failed its test for identifying "asbestiform amphibole contaminants" with accuracy, reliability, and practicality. "These objectives have not yet been achieved [emphasis in original]," he wrote, and suggested a partial retest.[36] Despite this, the J4-1 method, one that the industry itself acknowledged is incapable of determining low-level pollution, is still the standard within industry.

The industry methodology was no more capable of determining low-level exposures than was the methodology the FDA first proposed, and may have been less accurate than were the time-consuming methods they critiqued. For the following half century, the debate over the presence or absence of asbestos in talc has continued. The implications of this for science, regulation, and consumer safety have resulted in conferences, symposia, and many scientific papers ever since. But it is no mere scholastic issue. In 1995, for example, Edward Kavanaugh, president of the CTFA, responded to a petition by a citizen advocacy group, the Cancer Prevention Coalition, that asked the FDA to label cosmetic talc products as potential carcinogens. He reiterated the industry's long-standing position that such warnings were "not necessary to protect the health of consumers and would unnecessarily alarm consumers regarding the use of safe cosmetic products."[37] The FDA did not act on the petitioners' appeal.

The recent lawsuits against various talc manufacturers have once again brought the issue of asbestos in talc to public attention. The consequences of industry's actions and inactions—and of its knowledge or lack thereof—that were identified a half century ago are still with us.

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