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Talc has been the subject of several lawsuits against talcum powder maker Johnson & Johnson — including one that resulted in $417 million in damages for the plaintiff.
Talcum powder is the loose form of talc, the softest known mineral. While it is used in many industries, consumers are most commonly exposed to talc in the form of baby powder, used as an antiperspirant and to prevent diaper chafing. However, talc may contain the known carcinogen asbestos, and thus lead to severe side effects, such as ovarian cancer.
Below, we’ll discuss more products that use talcum powder, the risks of talcum powder, an update on litigation, and what you should do if you use talcum powder products.
Talcum Powder Uses
Talc is commonly found in cosmetics, so women may especially be at risk for talcum powder-related injuries.
According to the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, talc may be in the following items you use every day:
- Baby powder
- Body and shower products
- Feminine hygiene products
- Face masks
Unless you know your talc product is asbestos-free, don’t use it. And even if it is asbestos-free, it’s especially important to keep it away from the groin area.
Talcum Powder Risks
In nature, talc deposits are often mixed with asbestos deposits — asbestos is the only known cause of mesothelioma, a serious form of cancer. Starting in the 1970s, the FDA instituted strict mining and manufacturing guidelines to ensure that talc destined for consumer use was not contaminated by asbestos.
Despite these measures, talcum powder use has been linked to lung and ovarian cancer. Workers in talc mines or talcum powder factories are at risk for inhaling talc fibers. They may also be exposed to asbestos and other types of naturally occurring carcinogens, leading to an increased risk for lung cancer. Some studies have suggested that the use of talcum powder on the genitals may cause ovarian cancer. One study suggested that regular genital use of talcum powder may increase the risk of ovarian cancer by as much as 25%. Talcum powder may travel through the vagina and fallopian tubes and into the ovaries, where it causes inflammation that allows cancer cells to thrive.
The International Agency for Research on Cancer lists talc that contains asbestos as carcinogenic. The IARC lists talc without asbestos as unclassifiable with regards to whether it is a carcinogen. Finally, it lists talc used genitally as potentially carcinogenic. The World Health Organization’s International Association for the Research of Cancer states, “There is limited evidence in humans for the carcinogenicity of perineal use of talc-based body powder,” meaning that the data is unclear but suggests a possible link.
In March 2016, researchers from Brigham & Women’s Hospital in Boston released a retrospective study of thousands of women with and without ovarian cancer. They found a 33% increase in the risk of ovarian cancer for those who regularly sprinkle talcum powder on their genitals, underwear, sanitary napkins, and tampons.
Talcum Powder Lawsuits
In May 2014, a class of plaintiffs who used Johnson & Johnson products containing talcum powder brought suit against Johnson & Johnson for exposing them to an increased risk for ovarian cancer. That was the second such suit filed in 2014. Since then, more than 1,000 cases have been filed in Missouri and New Jersey courts alone.
The lawsuit alleges that Johnson & Johnson and other industry players have repeatedly refused to acknowledge studies showing a potential link between talcum powder use and an increased risk of ovarian cancer. In the 1990s, J&J and other talc makers founded the Talc Interested Party Task Force (TIPTF) to defend the use of talc and fight potential regulation of the industry. TIPTF hired its own scientists, who released their own studies suggesting that talcum powder was safe to use genitally. Around the same time, condom manufacturers stopped using talc in their products due to the growing concerns about the link between talcum powder and ovarian cancer.
In one of the lawsuits filed in 2014, that evidence was enough to convince the jury that Johnson & Johnson was guilty of negligence, failure to warn, and conspiracy. In other words, the jury believed that J&J knew or should have known about the risks associated with talcum powder use, failed to warn consumers about those risks, and then conspired to keep those risks secret or to downplay or obfuscate them. The suit was brought by the family of Jacqueline Fox, who died of ovarian cancer in 2015. In total, the jury awarded Ms. Fox’s family $72 million — $10 million in actual damages and $62 million in punitive damages.
In a similar case in Missouri, plaintiff Gloria Ristesund sued J&J for failing to warn her and other consumers about the risk of ovarian cancer associated with genital use of talcum powder. She suffered from ovarian cancer requiring a hysterectomy and other surgeries. Fortunately, her cancer is now in remission. After a day of deliberation, the jury found in favor of Ms. Ristesund and she was awarded $5 million in compensatory damages and $50 million in punitive damages. Note that punitive damages are typically reserved for cases in which the defendant (Johnson & Johnson, in this case) went beyond mere negligence and acted recklessly with respect to the injured party.
In August 2017, a Los Angeles jury issued a $417 million verdict — $347 million of which were punitive damages — against Johnson & Johnson in the case of a 63-year-old woman who was diagnosed with terminal ovarian cancer after using their talcum products. Eva Echeverria had used Johnson’s Baby Powder from age 11 until 2016. She was too near death to attend the trial.
Johnson & Johnson faces more than 5,500 outstanding talcum powder lawsuits in the U.S.
Contact Our Ohio Talc Lawsuit Attorneys
Your first concern should be your health. Contact your doctor to ask about the risks of using talcum powder. There are other, similar products that use corn starch rather than talcum powder; no links have been established between corn starch and cancer, so those products may be a good substitute. Also, it’s probably safest to avoid sprinkling any product on a tampon or pad because of the risks of irritation.
If you’ve suffered medical consequences as a result of your talcum powder use, contact one of our experienced personal injury attorneys today. In a free consultation, we’ll discuss your case and your goals. You may be entitled to compensation, and we’ll fight to ensure that you receive the remuneration you deserve.