Talc is extracted in many countries and has many applications. Although most talc supply chains have low association with ESG issues, talc has made headlines recently for links to conflict financing in Afghanistan, and allegations of cancer risk for consumers.
Talc is composed of magnesium, silicon, oxygen, and hydrogen, and is the softest of all minerals, having the lowest possible rating on the Mohs scale of mineral hardness. It occurs in two main forms: steatite, a massive talcose rock, and soapstone, which is an impure form of steatite that also contains many other minerals such as mica and dolomite.
Talc is a hydrous magnesium silicate with a structure highly similar to pyrophyllite, which is also a hydrous aluminium silicate.1Both minerals are phyllosilicates – a type of silicate exhibiting a crystalline structure in the form of parallel sheets and are commonly mined from the same mineral deposits. Given their almost identical physical properties, they can often be substituted for one another.2
Asbestos mineral deposits can also occur alongside talc deposits and as a result they can be co-mined, however this is problematic for producers of talc-based consumer goods as small quantities of asbestos can be carcinogenic. There are growing concerns amongst consumers and industry of the contamination of talc being with asbestos, highlighting the importance of properly testing talc products intended for human consumption.
Volumes of talc production and known reserves are not reported consistently across producing countries as many estimates do not disaggregate talc and pyrophyllite production figures. It is difficult to estimate the total known global reserves of talc, although they are abundant with respect to production, which totalled approximately 7.3 million tonnes of talc and pyrophyllite in 2022. India is the largest producer, which accounted for an estimated one quarter of combined talc and pyrophyllite production in 2022, with China the next largest producer, followed by Brazil, Afghanistan and the United States.3
Talc has a diverse set of applications across a variety of industries, such as in the manufacture of paints or as a filler material in many paper and plastic products. Its whiteness combined with the ability to prevent caking and absorb oils lend talc to many uses in the cosmetics industry, such as antiperspirants, powdered and liquid makeup, and baby powders. However, recent media reports have alleging the contamination of talc-based baby powders with carcinogenic asbestos, leading many cosmetics manufacturers to substitute talc with corn starch in their products. International media and civil society organisations have reported that talc extracted in Afghanistan is a driver of conflict between the Taliban and the Islamic State, which both seek control of this lucrative resource. and which is smuggled into Pakistan for onward sale.
Main Uses and Attributes
Talc is chemically inert, has a high thermal conductivity, a low electrical conductivity and has perfect cleavage – meaning that it cleaves into thin sheets without any broken crystallised fragments.4,5 It exhibits a pale green, grey or white colour depending on its purity6 and has commercially desirable properties such as a high lustre, purity, softness, and fragrance retention.7 Additionally, talc is hydrophobic, but readily absorbs oils and grease.8
Talc is used across many industries to produce ceramics, construction materials, cosmetics, food products, electrical cables, paints, paper and plastics. Since it can be easily cut or crushed, it is commonly used in powdered form, and is often combined with corn starch in cosmetic products.9 Purified talc can be processed to produce a white powder commonly referred to as talcum powder, which is used in a wide range of domestic household products.
Supply Chain Risk
TDi assesses Talc for key risks affecting the security of supply, and for its association with artisanal and small-scale mining.
Country Governance Risks
Talc's association with countries experiencing: