The Food and Drug Administration plays a crucial role in protecting Americans from harmful medicines and personal products. The agency has pre-market approval authority over most prescription drugs, meaning that it gets to decide if a new drug's potential benefits outweigh its risks and side effects.
Unfortunately, the FDA has limited authority over non-prescription drugs and almost no authority over personal-care products or anything labeled as a "dietary supplement." Manufacturers of these products don't have to prove they are safe or effective before putting them on the market. Instead, the FDA must prove they are unsafe before a recall can be ordered.
This standard creates some serious problems when it comes to products containing talc, which is found in baby powder, adult body powders, cosmetics and even toothpaste. Unfortunately, talc can easily be tainted by asbestos - especially when it is mined without proper site testing. American suppliers and manufacturers often test for the presence of asbestos before mining new deposits of talc, but the same cannot be said for companies outside the United States. Huge supplies of imported talc come from China and Pakistan, and these imported products are not tracked by any government agency.
The FDA has strongly considered regulating talc used in cosmetics. An FDA memo circulated in 1976 expressed concerns that cosmetics manufacturers were not carefully monitoring the safety of talc supplies. Similar concerns were raised at the FDA in 1994 and again in 2001. In all three cases, the FDA considered a proposal to better regulate asbestos levels in talc. Unfortunately, those plans and suggestions never resulted in changes.
It is scary to think that manufacturers of talc products may be exposing Americans to harmful asbestos, even while claiming that their products are "asbestos free." If we really want to ensure safe supplies of talc, companies should no longer be trusted to test and report the safety of their own products.
Source: Salon, "The hard truth about the softest mineral: Talc is littered with stray asbestos," Myron Levin, Sept. 13, 2015