We wish to inform the public that some talc powder and cosmetics on sale IN Nigerian markets contain asbestos. The International Agency for Research on Cancer and the United States Geological Survey at different times held that asbestos are found close to talc deposits underground and sometimes contaminate talc when it is mined. According to the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer, talc that contains asbestos is classified as “carcinogenic to humans.” WHO said there is no safe level of asbestos.
The above information spurred series of serious public pressure for the withdrawal of talc products from the public in US and Canada. On May 19, 2020, Johnson and Johnson (J&J) announced that it will discontinue sale of its talc baby powder in the US and Canada after thousands of women who used the product developed ovarian cancer and filed lawsuits against the company. Now, J&J has replaced its talc products with cornstarch for US and Canada products but continues sale of talc baby powder in Nigeria and other countries. There are reports that other major companies like Chanel, Revlon and L’Oreal are quietly moving away from using talc in some products due to U.S. cancer lawsuits and increased consumer concerns. Germany’s Beiersdorf said it switched to corn starch in its Nivea baby powder in 2018.
As at March 2020, J&J has 19,400 pending lawsuits on talc powder. In June 2020, a US Appeal Court upheld a jury verdict that J&J’s talc caused ovarian cancer in 22 women and set damages at US$2.12 billion. The court concluded that J&J “worked tirelessly” to ensure that testing protocols would not detect asbestos in all talc samples and published articles downplaying the safety hazards of talc.” In October 2020, J&J agreed to pay more than US$100 million to settle over 1000 lawsuits in the US.
A large number of the lawsuits accused the company of hiding cancer risks associated with its talc products. Based on this, several Juries in U.S fined the company billions of dollars as damages for poor handling of its product. J&J internal company documents showed that J&J knew about asbestos contamination in its talc powder for decades but continued to sell the product around the world. J&J also developed a strategy to undermine scientific evidence showing talc miners had elevated rates of lung disease and cancer. In June 2020, a US Court of Appeal made the following conclusions:
[J&J] discussed the presence of asbestos in their talc in internal memoranda for several decades; avoided adopting more accurate measures for detecting asbestos and influenced the industry to do the same; attempted to discredit those scientists publishing studies unfavorable to their Products; and did not eliminate talc from the Products and use cornstarch instead because it would be more costly to do so, the jury found Defendants knew of the asbestos danger in their Products when they were sold to the public. This finding supports that Defendants’ exposure of consumers to asbestos over several decades was done with reckless disregard of the health and safety of others.”
Reports also showed that US federal conducted criminal investigation against J&J to ascertain the safety of its talc products “… an investigation by 41 states into its baby powder sales, which it disclosed in April, and an investigation into health risks of asbestos in talc-containing consumer products by a Congressional subcommittee.”
On February 6, 2019, the Consumer Protection Council (CPC) in Nigeria relied on Sections 2(b) and 2(c) of the Consumer Protection Council Act (CPCA) to limit the spread in Nigerian market by alerting the public when they became aware of the court judgments but most residents are unaware of this.
The March 28, 2019 Guardian publication revealed that the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) is aware of the development but our observation showed that NAFDAC is still indecisive despite J&J actions in US and Canada.
Call to Action
- A product which is not safe in the US and Canada does not suddenly become safe for humans in other part of the world and Nigeria in particular, therefore, we are calling J&J and other manufacturers to discontinue sale of talc-based powder and other cosmetics in Nigeria for health and safety reasons.
- We call on National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) and the Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission to robustly raise awareness about these developments to safeguard all citizens in Nigeria from harm.
- The public should note that other cosmetics like pressed powder, blush and eye shadow also contain talc. Consumers are advised to check products before using to avoid harm.
Why immediate action is required to remove all talc cosmetic products from sale in Nigeria
- Asbestos are close to talc deposits underground and can contaminate talc during mining.
- The World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer classifies talc that contains asbestos as “carcinogenic to humans.”
- Cosmetic talc use can cause mesothelioma. Mesotheliomais a malignant tumor that is caused by inhaled asbestos fibers and forms in the lining of the lungs, abdomen or heart. Symptoms can include shortness of breath and chest pain. The life expectancy for most mesothelioma patients is approximately 12 months after diagnosis.
- There is no safe level of asbestos exposure.
- Asbestos was linked to ovarian cancer in 1958.
- Talc can harm infants if inhaled.
- Products based on corn starch or rice flour are technically feasible, available alternatives to talc products.
- Some manufacturers of talc powder have replaced talc with corn starch.
- Rights to life must be protected by the Nigerian Government as enshrined in Article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; Article 4 of the Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights; Article 4 of the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa; Article 5 of African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child; Article 6 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child; and Article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights recognize the inherent right of every person to life, affirming that this right, “shall be protected by law” and that “no one shall be arbitrarily deprived of life”.
Patrick Chiekwe, Executive Director