Talcum powder unlikely to have killed woman, expert says

Consultant responds to findings of a Dublin inquest on the death of Therese Lawlor

A leading respiratory consultant has said people should not be unduly alarmed by the findings of a Dublin inquest earlier this week, which linked the death of a woman to the ingestion of talcum powder.

Dr Des Murphy, of Cork's University College Hospital, told The Irish Times that the case was "most unusual" and he stressed that the death of 49-year-old Malahide woman Therese Lawlor last year was almost certainly not as a result of the inhalation of talcum powder.

The woman died in April 2015 but had suffered ill health since a workplace accident in 1993.

At a hearing this week at the Dublin Coroner’s Court, it emerged that the most likely cause of death was exposure to talcum powder earlier in Ms Lawlor’s life.


The consultant pathologist Dr Munah Sabah told the court she had found needle-shaped silicate deposits in the woman’s spleen, liver and bone marrow during a postmortem examination.

She noted that foreign material circulating in the woman’s system had created pulmonary hypertension which lead to her death.

“This would appear to be a most unusual case,” Dr Murphy said.

“Talc can cause inhalation injuries in the lungs, but typically we would only see that in people who were exposed to it at a very high level, people working with it in confined spaces or mining it.”

Environmental factors such as mining were ruled out by the court.

Dr Murphy said the fact that there were silicate deposits found throughout the woman’s body and not only in her lungs suggested the talc had not been ingested through inhalation but had taken an intravenous route.

“In cases where talc has been inhaled, scarring tends to be confined to the lungs, but when we see what is known as disseminated talcosis, it typically means it was almost certainly absorbed by a route other than the lungs.”


Laura Erskine, of parenting website mummypages.ie, said many parents had read reports of the inquest and become concerned about the potential dangers when using talcum powder as part of their babies' hygiene routine.

However, she said the risks of talcum powder could be overstated and pointed out that the US Food and Drugs Administration had given it the green light.

However, she said that “many parents believe any risk, no matter how small, is not worth taking when it comes to the health of their children”, which she said explained why many parents were reluctant to use it “despite our nostalgia with the smell of baby powder”.

Conor Pope

Conor Pope

Conor Pope is Consumer Affairs Correspondent, Pricewatch Editor and cohost of the In the News podcast