For the past few years, health giant Johnson & Johnson has been involved with over 6,000 lawsuits claiming its talc products – Shower to Shower and baby powder – can cause of ovarian cancer. Earlier this year, Johnson & Johnson was faced with another lawsuit regarding their talc-based products being linked to mesothelioma – a rare and deadly cancer that’s only known cause is asbestos exposure. Now, the health care giant and talc supplier Imerys Talc America will be forced to pay $117 million to the New Brunswick, New Jersey man who is suffering from the aggressive asbestos-caused cancer after he claimed that his frequent use of Johnson & Johnson baby powder over the course of his life caused his life-threatening illness.
Internal documents from Johnson & Johnson show that the company knew about potential asbestos contaminants in its baby powder, but did nothing to inform the public of such health risks. Talc is a naturally occurring mineral that is the main ingredient in baby powder, excavated from open pit mines through drilling and blasting. Talc itself is not a carcinogen, but it can be contaminated with asbestos, as those two minerals are often found near one another. Talc mined is typically taken to a particle mill to have impurities and contaminates removed, but if not cared for properly, deadly asbestos particles could make their way into the finished product.
Mesothelioma is a rare, aggressive, and fatal disease that’s only known cause is asbestos exposure. As a result of this verdict, these corporate documents may now be used in the upcoming ovarian cancer trials, where the knowledge of the link between ovarian cancer and talcum powder use can be traced back to the 1970s. A series of studies from that time found that women who frequently used talcum powder for feminine hygiene were 33 percent more likely to increase their risk of ovarian cancer. Some experts believe that Johnson & Johnson has known about the potential health risks since 1982, but chose to not inform consumers of the risks.
Johnson & Johnson maintains its innocence, claiming that the science behind these studies is not legitimate and no asbestos contamination was ever found in their products. The link between ovarian cancer and talcum powder, despite the fact it has cost Johnson & Johnson millions of dollars, still remains relatively hard to prove. Risk estimates are based upon small samples sizes and may not be accurate. There are also many other health factors that play a role in an ovarian cancer diagnosis, and it has been difficult to rule those out in favor of talcum powder use as the lone cause.
The link between asbestos exposure and mesothelioma has now been known for decades and is common knowledge. There is no question that the New Jersey man suffering from mesothelioma was exposed to asbestos at some point in his life time. Johnson & Johnson and Imerys Talc America plan to appeal this verdict, as they have with many others claiming that their products are a cancer risk.
Tina Bellon, “J&J Baby Powder Litigation Takes New Focus with Asbestos Claims,” Reuters (April 16, 2018). [Link]