Special Report: J&J knew for decades that asbestos lurked in its Baby Powder

An executive at Johnson & Johnson said the main ingredient in its best-selling baby powder could potentially be contaminated by asbestos, the dangerous mineral that can cause cancer. He recommended to senior staff in 1971 that the company “upgrade” its quality control of talc.

Talc is a mineral in clay mined from underground deposits. It’s the softest mineral known to man and that makes it useful in a wide range of consumer and industrial products.

Asbestos is also found underground, and veins of it can often be found in talc deposits, leading to a risk of cross-contamination, geologists say.

Asbestos is a set of six naturally occurring silicate minerals, which all have in common their eponymous asbestiform habit: i.e., long (roughly 1:20 aspect ratio), thin fibrous crystals, with each visible fibre composed of millions of microscopic “fibrils” that can be released by abrasion and other processes.

They are commonly known by their colours, as blue asbestos, brown asbestos, white asbestos, and green asbestos.

Uses and applications:

Manufacturers and builders use asbestos for its desirable physical properties. Some of those properties are sound absorption, average tensile strength, affordability, and resistance to fire, heat, and electricity. It was used in such applications as electrical insulation for hotplate wiring and in building insulation.

When asbestos is used for its resistance to fire or heat, the fibres are often mixed with cement or woven into fabric or mats. These desirable properties led to asbestos being used very widely.

Inhalation of asbestos fibres can cause serious and fatal illnesses including lung cancer, mesothelioma, and asbestosis (a type of pneumoconiosis).

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