Talcum powder products may be harmful to lungs, possible cause of ovarian cancer: feds

Talcum powder products may be harmful to lungs, possible cause of ovarian cancer: feds

TORONTO — Consumers are being warned to avoid inhaling talcum powder or using the products on the female genital area, as exposure may cause potentially serious respiratory problems and possibly ovarian cancer.

Baby powder should also be kept away from a child’s face to avoid inhalation, Health Canada and Environment and Climate Change Canada said Wednesday in releasing a draft screening assessment of products containing talc.

The draft assessment focuses on the safety of talc in such self-care products as cosmetics; baby, body, face and foot powders; diaper and rash creams; and genital antiperspirants and deodorants.

“When you inhale talc, the fine talc particles will get lodged inside of the lung, and over time there’s a cumulative effect associated with that,” said David Morin, director general of the safe environment directorate.

Inhaling talc, a naturally occurring mineral, can cause difficulty breathing, decreased lung function and pulmonary fibrosis, a scarring of the lungs.

Products containing talc have also been linked to ovarian cancer in some women, and the Canadian Cancer Society identifies its use on the female genitals as a possible risk factor for the malignancy.

A number of class action lawsuits in the U.S. and Canada launched against Johnson & Johnson contend that longtime use of its talcum powder for feminine hygiene resulted in the development of the plaintiffs’ ovarian cancer. The cosmetics giant has denied its product, which has been on the market since 1894, causes the disease.

Despite studies suggesting a link, Health Canada has not mandated that labels on talc-containing products carry specific warnings about the possible link with the development of ovarian cancer or the respiratory risks to adults who inadvertently inhale talcum powder particles.

Ottawa only requires label warnings related to the use of loose talc powder for infants and children, said Tolga Yalkin, head of the consumer products safety directorate.

“Essentially, those warnings are: ‘Keep out of reach of children’ and ‘Keep out of the way of a child’s face to avoid inhalation, which can cause breathing problems,’” he said.

The Canadian Paediatric Society also advises against the use of talcum powder — long used by parents to prevent diaper rash — for infants and babies.

Muhannad Malas, toxics program manager for Environmental Defence, said Health Canada’s screening assessment shows that the effects of talc can be “really serious.”

“What we want to see here is some regulatory actions in terms of banning talcum powder in cosmetics and personal care products that pose significant risks to women and to children,” he said in an interview.

The environmental action organization is also calling for ”much stronger health warnings that would clearly identify the risks and clearly tell consumers why talcum is a problem and why we should avoid exposure to it,” he said.

Yalkin said the government is investigating the possibility of updating its cosmetic ingredient hotlist and possibly expanding warnings on product labels, but any decision would follow a 60-day consultation process and the final version of the screening assessment.

The consultation will offer members of the public, talc-products manufacturers, academics and others to provide comment and information on the issue. Their input, as well as any new scientific evidence, will help inform the final assessment.

“It’s possible you will see additional warnings that are mandated by Health Canada,” Yalkin said.

Morin added that if the final screening assessment confirms that talc in certain products is harmful to human health, regulatory action will be taken to manage the identified risks.

But Malas said he’s concerned about how long that process could take, from finalizing the screening assessment to taking regulatory action if deemed warranted.

He said it took four to five years for the government to finalize a risk assessment for triclosan, an antibacterial chemical used in cleaning and personal care products, following release of its draft document, and another a few years more before it decided on what measures to take.

“We want to avoid that,” he said. “I think what we’re looking for is some concrete and immediate actions in terms of reducing Canadians’ exposure, especially women’s exposure to talcum powder and also infants’ exposure.”

Federal law requires companies to list the ingredients on cosmetic and personal care products, noted Yalkin.

“So in the meantime, Canadians who are concerned about their exposure can check to see if (talc) is on the product that they’re considering using and make a decision accordingly.”

The draft screening assessment will be published in the Canada Gazette, Part I, and will be open for public comment until Feb. 6. The Canada Gazette containing public notices, official appointments and proposed regulations from the federal government is published every Saturday, but available online Fridays at 2 p.m. Eastern time.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau responds to a question during question period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Friday, Dec. 11, 2020. A British Columbia company that feeds food waste to insects to produce pet food has received $6 million from the federal government for it’s new state-of-the-art plant just north of Calgary. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Patrick Doyle
B.C. company turning fly larvae into pet food gets $6M in federal funds

Fly larvae fed a mixture of food waste and agricultural byproducts

FortisBC is reporting record electricity usage as temperatures spike. (File photo
AltaLink seeks to refund extra $350 million over three years to Alberta customers

AltaLink submits proposal to Alberta Utilities Commission

Annamie Paul, leader of The Green Party of Canada and byelection candidate for the Toronto Centre riding, walks back to her car after greeting supporters on election night, October 26, 2020. Paul has spent most of the past 10 months holed up in her apartment, just like you. But that stationary, pandemic-induced state belies the sharp pivot her party is making as it manoeuvres to break the tether of a one-issue party and reframe itself as a fresh inheritor of Canada’s social justice tradition. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young
Annamie Paul charts new course for Green party — through crowded waters

Paul’s calls for guaranteed livable income, universal pharmacare and child care, and free post-secondary education

ATB Economics released new vehicle sales stats for November. (Contributed by ATB Economics)
2020 will be remembered as tough year for new car and truck dealers in Alberta

ATB Economics releases new vehicle sales stats for November

Justin Kripps of Summerland and his team have competed in Olympic action and World Cup competitions in bobsleigh. (Jason Ransom-Canadian Olympic Comittee).
QUIZ: Are you ready for some winter sports?

It’s cold outside, but there are plenty of recreation opportunities in the winter months

A yard in Gascoyne, ND., which has hundreds of kilometres of pipes stacked inside it that are supposed to go into the Keystone XL pipeline, should it ever be approved are shown on April 22, 2015. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Alex Panetta
TC Energy decarbonization response to Keystone setback unlikely to sway ESG investors

Plans announced for the Keystone XL project to achieve net zero emissions

President-elect Joe Biden waves to reporters as walks out of The Queen theater Monday, Jan. 18, 2021, in Wilmington, Del. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
Joe Biden to propose 8-year citizenship path for immigrants

An estimated 11 million people living in the U.S. without legal status

This screen grab from a Zoom call shows new New York Mets general manager Jared Porter Monday, Dec. 14, 2020. (Zoom via AP)
Report: Mets GM admits explicit texts to female reporter

Another embarrassing development for the Mets

A man wearing a protective mask to help curb the spread of the coronavirus walks near banners of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics and Paralympics in Tokyo Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2021. The Tokyo Olympics are to open in six months on July 23. Interestingly, Tokyo organizers have no public program planned to mark the milestone. There is too much uncertainty for that right now. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)
Tokyo Olympics Q&A: 6 months out and murmurs of cancellation

Instead of a countdown celebration, the focus is on COVID-19

Fashion mogul Peter Nygard is shown during a bail hearing in Winnipeg on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021, in this courtroom sketch. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Tadens Mpwene - POOL
Canadian fashion mogul seeking bail on U.S. charges of sex trafficking, racketeering

Lawyers for the Attorney General of Canada say Nygard has a history of not showing up to court

Montreal Canadiens down Edmonton Oilers 3-1, sweep series

Montreal Canadiens down Edmonton Oilers 3-1, sweep series

Toronto Raptors forward Pascal Siakam (43) loses the basketball as he tries to drive around Dallas Mavericks center Willie Cauley-Stein (33) during the second half of an NBA basketball game Monday, Jan. 18, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Chris O'Meara
Lowry leads the way as Raptors down the Mavericks for their third straight win

Lowry leads the way as Raptors down the Mavericks for their third straight win

Most Read