Tag Archives: asbestos

From the desk of Doc Smo: Pictures speak! (Article)

Photographs can leave a strong impression, reinforcing information that words often cannot. I remember to this day a visiting professor who came and spoke to my medical school class about environmental health problems. He showed us a photograph of a hospital air intake pipe which sat just above a huge mountain of asbestos. We all knew the implications of what this photo depicted: asbestos was being literally pumped into the ventilation system of a hospital!!! A manmade environmental disaster!

The students and faculty at my medical school were particularly knowledgeable about asbestos since Rutgers University was centered near Manville, NJ. My young readers may not recognize the Manville name, but my older readers probably do. The John Manville Company was, at one time, the largest manufacturer of asbestos products in the United States. Asbestos is a natural mineral which is a fantastic heat insulator. This property led to its widespread use as an insulator for pipes, walls, and attics. It was cheap and extremely useful except for one problem: if the fibers are inhaled, it can irritate the lining of the lungs and eventually cause a horrible cancer. The biology of all this was worked out in the hospitals where I worked in medical school.

The asbestos photograph had a powerful impact on me. I can still conjure this photograph in my mind to this day; it is as clear as can be in my memory. Recently I started using photographs to reinforce messages with my patients. I have started keeping a photograph on my smart phone of a bike helmet that saved one of my patient’s life. If you want to hear that whole story, listen to my pedcast called “Bike helmets work”. https://www.docsmo.com/bike-helmets-work-pedcast-needs-media-file-needs-transcript-edit/. Should the subject of bike helmets comes up during a visit, out comes the crushed bike helmet photo. Similarly, when the subject of seat belts and auto safety comes up in the office, out comes the crashed car photo. When the subject of infant sleep positioners comes up, out comes the photo of a potential smothering event in a doll. Well, you get the idea: photographs can reinforce messages that words just can’t, just like one did for me 36 years ago during that guest lecture.

Your comments are welcome at www.docsmo.com. Until next time.

Changing Diapers; Hazardous to Your Health? (Pedcast)


Just imagine this Norman Rockwell scene– a baby’s room, a changing table, and powder everywhere with a giggling baby kicking and enjoying being liberally powdered. The baby has a nice dry bottom and is enjoying the nice aroma of the powder not to mention the wonderful feel of powder on their skin. What could be more American and traditional?  Grandma’s of yesteryear loved baby powders because they were super absorbent and feel great. Unfortunately, there is a dark side to powders that you should know about! There are things all parents need to know about baby powder, which we are going to discuss today. Before you start sprinkling powder around your baby and yourself, take a listen to this pedcast and learn why the use of baby powders are controversial and potentially harmful to you and your baby! Welcome to another edition of Portable Practical Pediatrics. I’m your host, Dr. Paul Smolen, a board certified pediatrician with a lot of experience and a whole lot to say.

What are powders?

Powders are created when solid substances have been crushed, ground, or pulverized into very small particles.  When these dry small particles are collected they are called powders. I guess it is possible to make a powder out of any solid substance and they can have many varied uses; from makeups to lubricants like graphite all the way to cocaine and gunpowder. Powders are amazing things! Today, we are going to limit our discussion to baby powders, the kind that are used on a baby’s bum. Chemically, baby powders are usually made of either talc, a mineral mined in many locations in the U.S. or from cornstarch. When it comes to powders the smaller the particles, the higher the quality of the powder. That’s why talc was so valued as a powder–talc can be pulverized into very small particles. It makes the best powder!  The small size of the particles creates a super-large surface area to absorb lots and lots of moisture. The ultra small particles also give this powder a silky smooth feel that both moms and babies really enjoy.  The powder keeps junior’s bum dry, silky smooth, reduces the friction of the diapers, and absorbs chemical irritants in their urine and poop.  What’s not to love?

If powders work well, what’s the problem?

You know by the title of this pedcast, that there must be a dark side to powders. Well, you are right. Here are some observations that make pediatricians and other health experts worry about people using powders, especially talcum powders around babies.

Workers in talc factories often have lung problems.

Some babies who have inhaled large amounts of powders have had lung problems.

Some naturally occurring Talc has asbestos fibers in it thus creating the long-term concern about lung cancer.

In fact, a jury in 2017 awarded a cancer victim  $100,000,000, finding liability against the Johnson and Johnson Company.

The irony with powders, especially those that contain talc, is that what makes them so useful also makes them more hazardous to use– their small particle size. These very small particles, microns in size, can drift down deep into your and your baby’s lungs and sit there for long periods of time. These particles can provoke allergic reactions, scarring of your baby’s lungs, or possibly even cancers.


How do I Keep My Baby’s Bum in Shape?


Our friends across the pond, the Brits, call diapers Nappies. So how do you keep your baby’s nappies happy? How can you keep the delicate skin on their bottom from breaking down if you can’t use powders? Here are a few tips that can help keep your baby’s bum in good shape:


-Frequent changing of diapers

-Careful cleaning and drying before new diapers put on.

-Avoid chemical wipes

-Remember, babies skin thinner that older people. Be very gentle when cleaning their skin and only use a soft wipe with lots of water.  A soft cotton diaper cut up into squares makes a good cleaning clothe.

-Barrier creams are very helpful keeping irritating poop or pee away from the skin. I love these.

-And of course, avoid using powders. They can be dangerous to your family’s health.


Well, that wraps up today’s pedcast. If you enjoy learning about child health with pedcasts, please take a minute to write a review on iTunes or subscribe to my blog at www.docsmo.com. You can also spread the DocSmo word by hitting the like and share buttons on my Facebook, Twitter, Google+, or Instagram accounts.

This is Dr. Paul Smolen, broadcasting from studio 1E in Charlotte, NC, hoping you are now more aware, of the dangers of powdery air

Until next time






  1. “How Can I Make Sure My Baby’s Bedroom Is Safe?” American Academy of Pediatrics : Healthy Children 10 June 2010: 1. Web. 2 Apr. 2011. <http://www.healthychildren.org/English/safety-prevention/at-home/pages/Make-Babys-Room-Safe.aspx?nfstatus=401&nftoken=00000000-0000-0000-0000-000000000000&nfstatusdescription=ERROR:%20No%20local%20token&nfstatus=401&nftoken=00000000-0000-0000-0000 000000000000&nfstatusdescription=ERROR:%20No%20local%20token>.


2. American Cancer Society. 04 Nov. 2010. 02 Apr. 2011 .


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