‘It shook me,’ Tlaib says of reports finding asbestos in makeup

By: - March 12, 2019 6:17 pm

U.S. Capitol | Susan J. Demas

WASHINGTON — U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Detroit) expressed outrage Tuesday over the presence of asbestos in cosmetic products used by young girls.

“I think people are not realizing corporate greed is a type of cancer in our democracy right now,” the freshman lawmaker said at a U.S. House hearing on the health risks posed by consumer products.

The oversight hearing focused on allegations that asbestos contained in cosmetics can cause cancer in consumers. Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral often found near talc, an ingredient in many products, according to the FDA.

Tlaib pointed to reports this month that the Food and Drug Administration confirmed the presence of the carcinogen in makeup sold by Claire’s and Justice, retail stores aimed at girls.

Those “are the stores that my residents go to, working folks, working families,” Tlaib said. “They don’t go to the bougie Macy’s counter — I’m being serious. These are targeting working-class people. Companies … manufacture and sell these makeup products to young girls, many of them are of color.”

Tlaib added of the reports: “It shook me, and I know I’m new. But before I came here, I honestly thought, FDA has got it covered. EPA has got it covered.”

Tlaib has questioned the EPA’s handling of several other environmental and safety issues, however. She and U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Dearborn) recently wrote to EPA Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler about the “rotten-egg smell” from the Marathon Detroit refinery residents have complained about.

The congresswoman also announced on Tuesday legislation, along with U.S. Sen. Gary Peters (D-Bloomfield Twp.), that would require the EPA to form and enforce new rules on storing and transporting petroleum coke. This has been an ongoing issue for southwest Detroit residents.

Tlaib noted that the report on cosmetics flags eyeshadows and other types of makeup that she sees her nieces using.

“The younger girls are starting to put all kinds of stuff on their face. I wasn’t allowed to wear makeup until I was 18. But it’s true; it’s changing because they’re really focusing on our young girls,” she said.

The FDA issued a statement earlier this month noting its limited regulatory power over such products.

“Right now, when it comes to cosmetics, companies and individuals who market these products in the U.S. hold the responsibility for the safety and labeling of their products,” the agency said in a statement.

“This means that ultimately a cosmetic manufacturer can decide if they’d like to test their product for safety and register it with the FDA. To be clear, there are currently no legal requirements for any cosmetic manufacturer marketing products to American consumers to test their products for safety.”

Witnesses pointed to research and lawsuits suggesting that talc-based powder can contain asbestos and can cause cancer. Last month, the Department of Justice and the Securities and Exchange Commission issued subpoenas in an investigation of asbestos in Johnson & Johnson’s baby powder.

Reuters reported in December that Johnson & Johnson knew for decades that its powder was sometimes tainted with asbestos, but that the company kept the information from regulators and the public.

Witnesses at the hearing Tuesday called for legislation that would increase the FDA’s regulatory power and improve consumer awareness of the dangers posed by chemicals in cosmetics.

Johnson & Johnson issued a statement after the hearing saying “the testimony was biased with a majority of witnesses being connected to litigation against our company.

“As a result, decades of studies concluding that Johnson’s Baby Powder is free of asbestos and safe to use were not discussed, and the subcommittee did not hear the preponderance of evidence that supports the safety of our product.”

Tlaib said she wants to list certain cosmetic products on her congressional website.

“I want to see if my colleagues won’t let me do that, because I want to put it on my website and provide this information to these young girls and try to increase education because I can’t wait for this legislation to pass for people to stop dying,” she said.

U.S. Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill.) agreed at the hearing.

“I don’t think common sense would dictate that when people apply things to their skin, they would ever expect cancer,” he said.

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Robin Bravender
Robin Bravender

Robin Bravender was the States Newsroom Washington Bureau Chief from January 2019 until June 2020. She coordinated the network’s national coverage and reported on states’ congressional delegations, federal agencies, the White House and the federal courts. Prior to that, Robin was an editor and reporter at E&E News, a reporter at Politico, and a freelance producer for Reuters TV.