Cancer affects millions of people in the U.S., resulting in hundreds of thousands of deaths each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). While it’s not always possible to find the root case of cancer in a particular person, the agency has warned that there are a number factors that can increase your risk: age, family history, or even the exposure to “certain chemicals and hazardous substances” or carcinogens. Now, one bathroom staple is being discontinued permanently amid claims that it contains a cancer-causing ingredient. Read on to find out what popular product is being pulled for good.
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While there are plenty of substances that have been identified as carcinogens, health officials have been alerting the public about concerns with one mineral for decades: asbestos. According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), asbestos is a “group of minerals that occur naturally as bundles of fibers,” which are found in soil and rocks throughout the world. Exposure to this mineral has been linked to various types of cancer, including mesothelioma, lung, laryngeal, and ovarian, per WebMD.
“The Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), the World Health Organization (WHO), and the EPA have determined that asbestos is a human carcinogen,” the CDC warns. “It is known that breathing asbestos can increase the risk of cancer in people … Cancer from asbestos does not develop immediately, but shows up after a number of years.”
In an Aug. 11 press release, Johnson & Johnson announced that it will stop selling its talc-based baby powder globally in 2023. According to CNBC, the company is facing nearly 38,000 lawsuits from consumers claiming that its talc products have caused cancer. The complaints have mounted for more than two decades after an initial suit in 1997 was filed by plaintiff Darlene Coker against Johnson & Johnson, alleging that “poisonous talc” in the company’s baby product had caused her to develop mesothelioma, Reuters reported in 2018.
Per Reuters, Coker ended up dropping her lawsuit after Johnson & Johnson denied the allegations, but the company has not been able to shake the claim that its talc-based baby powder has sometimes been contaminated with asbestos. Reuters reported that many documents from at least 1971 to the early 2000s indicate that Johnson & Johnson’s raw talc and finished powders “sometimes tested positive for small amounts of asbestos, and that company executives, mine managers, scientists, doctors and lawyers fretted over the problem and how to address it while failing to disclose it to regulators or the public.”
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Despite global discontinuation not set until 2023, if you see Johnson & Johnson baby powder in stores in the U.S. right now, it’s not talc-based. In May 2020, the company chose to discontinue the sale of its talc-based baby powder products in the country, as well as in Canada. At the time, Johnson & Johnson cited declining demand for the product as the reasoning behind its decision to discontinue.
“Demand for talc-based Johnson’s Baby Powder in North America has been declining due in large part to changes in consumer habits and fueled by misinformation around the safety of the product and a constant barrage of litigation advertising,” the company said in a May 2020 statement. Since then, only the company’s cornstarch-based baby powder has been sold in the U.S.
Johnson & Johnson called its choice to discontinue the talc-based baby powder a “commercial decision,” based on the future of its company. “As part of a worldwide portfolio assessment, we have made the commercial decision to transition to an all cornstarch-based baby powder portfolio,” the drug maker said. “We continuously evaluate and optimize our portfolio to best position the business for long-term growth. This transition will help simplify our product offerings, deliver sustainable innovation, and meet the needs of our consumers, customers and evolving global trends.”
The company claims its decision was not made because of the allegations that this product causes cancer—which it still denies. “Our position on the safety of our cosmetic talc remains unchanged. We stand firmly behind the decades of independent scientific analysis by medical experts around the world that confirms [our] talc-based baby powder is safe, does not contain asbestos, and does not cause cancer,” Johnson & Johnson added in its August statement.