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New Research Finds Asbestos in Talc Commonly Used Across Southeast Asia

City street in India

March 20, 2019

The public health risks associated with talcum powder containing asbestos have been widely explored in the United States, especially links with cancer. The latest work from Arthur Frank, PhD, a professor in the department of Environmental and Occupational Health at Drexel’s Dornsife School of Public Health, has now found a similar risk in Southeast Asia. 

In new research, to be published this week in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine, Frank, along with Indian and United State colleagues, initially examined five popular talc products commonly used in India and other parts of Southeast Asia. One powder was found to contain tremolite asbestos. A second group of eight products was tested and six were found to contain tremolite asbestos. Frank concluded “large quantities of body talc products containing asbestos are used throughout Southeast Asia and are likely to pose a clear public health risk for asbestos-related diseases,” such as cancer.

Tremolite asbestos has also been found in talc and other mineral deposits in the United States, as well as play sand used by children. In Southeast Asia, the tested products are most often used by adults dealing with extreme heat and humidity. “The risks of asbestos-contaminated talc include cancers such as lung, mesothelioma, ovarian, laryngeal and others,” Frank says. “Asbestos and talc can also cause non-malignant fibrotic changes in the lung.” Ovarian cancer is also said to be common in parts of Southeast Asia.

“Given the growing concern about asbestos in talc products, the implications of such exposures for hundreds of millions of Indians represents a significant public health problem,” Frank says. “There should be moves by the Indian government to force testing and prove that talc products sold are free of asbestos.”