SHANGHAI—Over the weekend, authorities reported that asbestos had been discovered in a brand of baby talcum powder which was distributed in South Korea. The Shanghai Food and Drug Administration has announced that is closely monitoring the situation.
Gu Zhenhua, a spokesperson for the Shanghai FDA, said the agency did not know whether or not the baby powder is currently on sale in the country, but that products around the city would be confiscated and inspected.
According to the American Cancer Society, talcum powder is produced from talc, a magnesium trisilicate mineral, which may contain asbestos in its natural form. In the United States, as well as in several European countries, it is illegal to use talcum powder as a raw material in cosmetics and body-care products.
China’s Ministry of Health issued a cosmetics regulation which states that no cosmetics should contain asbestos, but did not state that talcum powder should not be used as a raw material in the manufacture of cosmetics.
“The raw material of the powder, the natural talcum powder, is very likely to contain asbestos,” said Chen Ji, director of the department of dermatology at the Shanghai Children’s Medical Center.
Asbestos is a group of naturally occurring mineral fibers. It is found—and has been mined—in countries all over the world. Due to its extreme resistance to heat and fire, as well as to salt water, corrosive chemicals such as alkalies, and chemical and biological changes, it is often used in building materials. Additionally, asbestos fibers are lightweight and flexible, and can be spun into fabric or incorporated into materials such as cement and asphalt.
Exposure to asbestos, either in its raw form or in construction and insulation materials, especially when they are manufactured, dismantled or otherwise disturbed, can lead to several deadly diseases. These include pleural disease, asbestosis, and mesothelioma—a rare but aggressive form of cancer that affects the protective membranes which surround the lungs, heart or stomach. Mesothelioma often does not develop until years after the initial asbestos exposure, making it difficult to diagnose and treat early.
The company who manufactures the tainted baby powder, German-based NUK, refused to comment. Other NUK baby products were found on sale by the Shanghai Daily newspaper in a local mall, but sales clerks stated that the powder had not been on sale at that location for some time.