What is a risk assessment of a chemical substance?

A risk assessment is an integral part of maintaining both the health of Canadians and the environment. Risk assessments are executed by Environment and Climate Change Canada under the CEPA (Canadian Environmental Protection Act) and are used to “determine whether there are risks resulting from exposure of Canadians to the substance or releases of the substance into the environment, and the specific ways Canadians or the environment can be affected”. The assessment of chemicals allows for proper regulatory measures to be taken.

What risks does talc pose to human health?

The assessment mainly focuses on the risks talc poses within self-care products and concludes that it be classified as CEPA toxic. This conclusion is due to two associated risks with loose powder forms of talc. One of the two risks discussed is the inhalation of talc from loose powder products. This risk encompasses products such as baby powder and industrial applications in which talc is airborne. Warning labels have already been required on products like baby powder that are marketed for the use on infants, cautioning to avoid inhalation of the product by the infant. Inhalation of talc can lead to respiratory problems including “coughing, difficulty breathing, decreased lung function and scarring of the lung tissue”. Perhaps more serious of the risks is the possible associations with ovarian cancer. When used on the perineal region in women it was found that it is possible for talc to migrate and find itself lodged in the reproductive system. This judgement comes off the heels of the July verdict of the class action lawsuit of Johnson & Johnson by 22 women who claimed consistent use of J&J Baby Powder on the perineal area had led to their ovarian cancer (due to alleged contamination of talcum powder with asbestos). Johnson & Johnson was found guilty, with the court ruling in favour of those affected. Several studies have also been conducted to observe the possible risks associated with talc, these are included in the documentation provided by CEPA. It is important to note that, in pressed form or consumables (ie. Some cosmetics or foods or drugs), Health Canada did not find talc harmful.

Where does this leave Talc?

The findings show talc as a health threat, but that it presents no threat to the environment. In terms of talc as an ingredient in self-care products; those that are non-airborne, don’t come in contact with the perineal area or are consumed are deemed safe. However, in the meantime, consumers are left to make the decision themselves if they would like to stay away from talc-based products.

Despite these published documents, nothing is set in stone until the final assessment.  A 60-day comment period has opened allowing for comments to be made upon the presented information and conclusions. If passed, the proposed conclusions published by Health Canada would result in the following outcomes as means of risk management:

  • Possible modifications to the Cosmetic Ingredients Hotlist to prohibit or restrict talc and its use in cosmetics and perennial products
  • Possible modifications to the Natural Health Products Database and associated monographs to reduce the exposure of talc to consumers in NHPs and OTC drugs that have risks of being inhaled or usage associated with the perineal area

Important Dates to Note

  • The draft screening assessment was posted online by Health Canada on December 5th, 2018
  • A 60-day comment period has opened and will close on February 6th, 2019

For more information, please contact Focal Point Research Inc.  We are leading North American Regulatory and New Product Consultants for Medical DevicesNatural Health ProductsOTC DrugsCosmetics, and other consumer products regulated by Health Canada and the U.S. FDA.