I have to admit I was surprised to learn (years ago), that over the last 100 years pen manufacturers have made use of talc or chalk as a lubricate. This should not have surprised me, I’ve done lots of hiking and backpacking and welp let’s just leave it with I take a little bottle of baby powder (talc only) when I hit the trails.
Recently I stumbled upon a blogger, who only posts once annually, and that one time this year was last month. The topic was pen talc and asbestos. That got my attention.
Apparently, in March 1976, the New York Times published an article warning of the talc/asbestos connection but it got no one’s attention. Researchers found 10 of the 19 baby powders tested contained upwards of 20% asbestos. Got your attention now – right!
Talc is a naturally occurring mineral composed of magnesium, silicon, oxygen, and hydrogen. Chemically, talc is a hydrous magnesium silicate.
Asbestos is also a naturally occurring silicate mineral. When mining, both are often found in close proximity, hence the problem, there is a potential to contaminate the talc with asbestos. There are those (lawyers involved in class action lawsuits to name no one) who contend talc is naturally contaminated with asbestos.
Risks associated with talc powder stem from the toxic effects of talc dust contaminated with asbestos. Contaminated talc tends to contain highly carcinogenic forms of asbestos such as tremolite or anthophyllite. Which are more carcinogenic than chrysotile, the most-used type of asbestos. The chances of contracting cancer from a wisp of talc dust emanating from a fountain pen are minimal. However, that little wisp of white floating out of a lever slit now feels ominous, instead of satisfying.
Assuming a talc/asbestos mix is not for you, 100% pure talc (USP grade) is still available. Alternatively, how about graphite powder, a form of carbon (CAS Number: 231-955-3) is readily available everywhere, or precipitated calcium carbonate (CAS Number: 471-34-1)? This powdered chalk produced from limestone has been used for centuries in bookbinding and shoemaking. (credit: Restorer’s Art). You don’t need much, 100 grams (3.5oz) of any of these choices should be enough to last for years.
As my wife stockpiled baby powder made with talc when manufacturers announced no more talcum powder (think Seinfeld S7E9). They replaced talc with corn starch which is for soups and stews. Having a never-ending supply of talc, I will continue using unscented baby powder when I replace ink sacs.
- Restorer’s Art; Talc and Asbestos
- Asbestos.com; Talcum Powder
- New York Times; Asbestos Found in 10 Powders
- Food and Drug Administration; Cosmetic Ingredients talc