The Trouble with Talcum
December 31st, 2016 | Nicole M. Santo
November 29, 2016 - Attorney Nicole Santo - The familiar, comforting scent of baby powder – made from the planet’s softest mineral – talc. Few things seem more innocuous. Yet recently, a St. Louis jury awarded $70 million to a woman who developed ovarian cancer after using Johnson & Johnson’s baby powder for feminine hygiene for more than four decades. That verdict follows damages verdicts of $72 million and $55 million against Johnson & Johnson this year in the first two talc claims to go to trial in St. Louis.
The latest St. Louis verdict comes just a few weeks after two talcum powder lawsuits against the New Jersey based Johnson & Johnson were thrown out. A New Jersey Superior Court judge ruled the women couldn’t produce sufficient medical evidence showing Johnson’s Baby Powder caused cancer.
Clearly, the disparate cases raise more questions than they answer. The talcum powder - ovarian cancer issue is a complicated one.
What is talcum powder? It’s the refined, powdery form of talc, which comes from rock deposits found all over the planet. China is the biggest source of talc. Composed of magnesium, silicon, and oxygen, talc is usually mined from above-ground deposits. (Only a very small fraction of the world’s talc is used for baby powder. It’s used in ceramics, paint, paper, plastic and rubber, as well as chewing gum, olive oil, antiperspirants, soap and make-up.)
Talcum powder was used in the 19th century to soothe skin irritation. Consumers discovered that it helped diaper rash, leading to the introduction of Johnson’s Baby Powder in 1893. In the early 1900s, Johnson & Johnson began to market its baby powder for use by women. Advertisements in 1913 included the tagline, “Best for Baby, Best for You.” In the late 60’s, Johnson & Johnson introduced Shower to Shower Body powder. By 1985, 70% of the company’s baby powder was used by adults.
In the 1960s, a link between talc and ovarian cancer was suggested by observations that some talc powders contained asbestos. However, starting in 1973, federals laws required commercial talcum products to be asbestos-free. In 1971, British researchers found talc particles in ovarian and cervical tumors of women with cancer. A 1982 a study by Daniel Cramer, an epidemiologist at Brigham & Women’s Hospital in Boston, showed the first statistical link between genital talc use and ovarian cancer. Subsequent epidemiological studies have found that long-term perineal talc use increases the risk of ovarian cancer. Yet other research has found no association.
In 2006, Johnson & Johnson’s supplier Imerys Talc America (then called Luzenac) added labels to its 2,000-pound bags warning: “Perineal use of the powder is a possible risk factor for ovarian cancer,” Opponents of the position that talc is carcinogen argue that if that were the case, one would expect additional lower-extremity cancers, which has not occurred.
For its part, Johnson & Johnson argues that the statistical associations between use of the powder and ovarian cancer are limited, weak, and based on unreliable data. The company claims that “Science, research, clinical evidence and decades of studies by medical experts around the world continue to support the safety of cosmetic talc.” According to a company consultant, “There hasn’t been a single scientific body that has considered talc to be a causal agent.”
“Staying informed is one of the most important steps you can take to protect your health”, says Nicole Santo, Attorney at HKQ Law. “A product may claim to be safe, when in fact, it may lead to serious health risks. Educating yourself about the products you use every day is critical to maintaining good health.”
Johnson & Johnson is currently facing 1,700 lawsuits in state and federal court accused of ignoring studies linking its baby powder and Shower-to-Shower talc products to ovarian cancer and failing to warn customers about the risk. Although Johnson & Johnson has a cornstarch-based powder, it continues to sell its talcum-based product.
If you have any questions about filing a lawsuit involving ovarian cancer and talcum powder, call HQK Law at (800) 760-1529