Talcum powder is regarded as an everyday product that many people have used in their lives. Many people use it on their babies and infants to help prevent diaper rash, while others might use it to prevent chafing and issues with sweat and moisture on their skin.
However, there have been various accusations that talcum powder manufactured by several companies, including Johnson & Johnson. These lawsuits are most often linked to cancer and the belief that talcum powder could be causing a number of different cancers. In particular, a link with ovarian cancer has been explored. Recent lawsuits have resulted in billions of damages ordered to be paid in a Johnson and Johnson lawsuit.
There have long been suspicions in the medical community and the general public that talcum powder could be linked to cancer, and specifically to cancer in the reproductive system. Ovarian cancer can result from a number of factors, but some evidence shows that talc particles could get into the fallopian tubes and to the ovaries, raising the risk of ovarian cancer for the women who use the product.
The first study exploring this possibility was in 1971, when 75% of ovarian cancer tumors were found to contain talc particles. Further studies through the years also found a connection between talc and ovarian cancer. In 1997, it was shown the Johnson & Johnson, a major manufacturer, knew that there could be risks but believed it was too low to remove their products from the market or provide warnings about the potential risks.
Talc mining companies and Johnson & Johnson have continued to argue against the possibility of there being a link between talc and ovarian cancer. Thousands of lawsuits have been made by women who use talc products or their families. Billions of dollars have been awarded by judges so far, but thousands of other cases are still to be decided.
What Is Talcum Powder?
Talcum powder is powderized talc, which is a magnesium silicate. It is mined from naturally-occurring deposits, which are often found near asbestos deposits. Early talcum powder products might have contained asbestos, but today’s products should not. When a link between asbestos and cancer was clear, manufacturers started to make sure their products were free of asbestos. Although talcum powder manufacturers insist that their products do not contain asbestos, Johnson & Johnson recalled 33,000 bottles of Baby Powder in 2019 after it had been found to contain trace amounts of asbestos.
Talcum powder has been used in several popular products by Johnson & Johnson, as well as other brands. These include J&J’s Baby Powder and Shower-to-Shower body powder. Talcum powder is used because it’s absorbent and dries moisture, as well as soothing skin and dealing with odor. That’s why it’s used for various applications, from a diaper powder to feminine care and drying off after a shower or bath. Many manufacturers are now choosing to replace talcum powder with other powders that perform a familiar function, such as cornstarch and arrowroot powder.
Talcum Powder Injuries and Deaths
There are several risks that have been discussed, explored and studied in relation to talcum powder and talc. Talcum powder is often used to soothe the skin, but talc can be an irritating substance. It has been linked to respiratory problems and is known to exacerbate asthma and other lung conditions. However, the main concern in relation to talc is that it could cause ovarian cancer when used in the genital area or perineal area.
For a number of years now, there have been lawsuits not just fighting for but also winning recognition that talcum powder products have led to ovarian cancer in women. Although it is difficult to know how many cases of ovarian cancer talcum powder could be linked to, thousands of women or their families have filed lawsuits against Johnson & Johnson and other manufacturers that make products containing talcum powder.
While some may argue that the link between cancer and talcum powder isn’t clear cut, we do know that there is a definite link between asbestos and cancer. Talcum powder is often mined close to asbestos. This means that, although companies might try their best to avoid contamination with asbestos, there is still a chance of it occurring. A recent product recall by Johnson & Johnson came after FDA tests found sub-trace levels of chrysotile asbestos contamination at concentrations not exceeding 0.00002% in a single bottle. This might not seem like a lot, but for consumers, even the smallest amount of asbestos is too much.
How Could Talcum Powder Cause Cancer?
If you have heard that baby powder causes cancer, there could be more truth to this claim than you realize. Links have been found between ovarian cancer and talcum powder, as well as between talcum powder and mesothelioma, the type of cancer that is caused by asbestos. Talcum powder is a product that has been used by many people for a long time, so some might wonder how it could be possible that there is a link between talcum powder and cancer.
The possible link between talcum powder and ovarian cancer is one that is of most concern to many. Talcum powder could be causing ovarian cancer due to its use as a feminine hygiene product. Many women use talcum powder on sanitary napkins or their underwear, or other items that sit close to their vulva. They might also use it directly on their vulva or groin to reduce moisture and irritation, and to prevent chafing or rubbing. When used in this way, the talc could get into the vagina and travel through the fallopian tubes to the ovaries.
There are several theories related to how ovarian cancer could be connected to the use of products containing talc. Direct contact with the mucous membrane as the talc particles travel through the uterus and fallopian tubes to the ovaries is one possible cause. In addition, the talc particles might suppress some antibodies that are responsible for protecting against cancer, raising the risk of ovarian cancer.
It has also been speculated that the use of products containing talc could be related to uterine cancer and perhaps even stomach cancer. Some studies have found that the use of talcum powder in post-menopausal women could also increase their chances of developing endometrial cancer. The use of talcum powder has even been linked to bladder cancer and testicular cancer, although the links to these cancers is not as strong.
Talc and lung cancer could be connected, and there is a link between talc and mesothelioma. Mesothelioma occurs when airborne asbestos particles are inhaled. It is most common in people who work around asbestos, which can include asbestos miners, as well as construction workers and others who might spend a lot of time handling materials containing asbestos.
There is a possibility of talcum powder being contaminated by asbestos, which when inhaled could lead to mesothelioma. Workers who mine talc are most at risk of developing lung cancer related to talc, especially as it can be contaminated by asbestos. Lung disease and lung cancer, as well as mesothelioma, are all potential risks faced by people who breathe in asbestos. It was also only in the 1970s that the dangers of asbestos began to be recognized, meaning that many people may have used talcum powder products containing asbestos prior to this time.
Talcum Powder Lawsuits and Settlements
There have been many lawsuits challenging the manufacturers of products containing talcum powder, with pharmaceutical and health and beauty giant Johnson & Johnson the subject of many of them. The 2018 result of a case involving 22 women who sued the company over accusations that using Johnson & Johnson products led to them developing ovarian cancer meant that the company was ordered to pay $4.7 billion dollars. The amount, handed down by a Missouri judge, is the largest settlement amount that the company has ever faced. The final amount included $550 million in compensatory damages and $4.1 billion in punitive damages.
Johnson & Johnson is facing around 14,000 lawsuits related to their products containing talc. The claims suggest that Johnson & Johnson products, including their baby powder, include asbestos and can cause cancer. However, Johnson & Johnson deny both of these claims.
The first lawsuit involving talcum powder was won against Johnson & Johnson in 2013. The federal court case involved testimony from one of the leading experts in the relation between talc and cancer, Dr Daniel Cramer. He suggested that talcum powder has been a leading cause of ovarian cancer for many years. During the trial, an attorney for Johnson & Johnson admitted a link between talc and ovarian cancer but said that the company viewed the risk as insignificant and didn’t need to have a warning on their product labels.
Although there have been some large payouts in cases against Johnson & Johnson, several have been overturned. One trial in California resulted in damages of $417 million, but this verdict was later overturned, along with another from Missouri. Johnson & Johnson often choose to challenge the results of the cases where they are found to be liable, choosing to try to prove that there is no link between their products and cancer, and that their products do not contain asbestos.
Other lawsuits have resulted in damages from 2016 to 2018, including $72 million to the family of a woman who died of ovarian cancer and who had used talcum powder for many years. Over $5 billion has been awarded to plaintiffs in lawsuits relating to talcum powder and ovarian cancer.
Current lawsuits include almost 7,000 federal cases in the U.S. District Court in New Jersey. There are also hundreds of cases in New Jersey State Court, 800 in Los Angeles, and 1,700 state lawsuits in St Louis, Missouri.
In July 2019, Johnson & Johnson put forward its case to dismiss thousands of lawsuits. Pretrial proceedings for more than 11,000 cases were consolidated under one judge. Johnson & Johnson attempted to have the expert witnesses dismissed by the judge. However, the evidence was found to be admissible.
In addition to the women who have brought forth lawsuits relating to ovarian cancer, several men have also secured damages. A recent case saw four people in New Jersey claim that Johnson & Johnson products contained asbestos and caused their cancer. They were awarded $37.2 million in compensatory damages. The group claimed that there were exposed to talc and asbestos when they were children, through the products that their parents used.
Some lawsuits related to talcum powder have resulted in large amounts of compensation, although some verdicts have been overturned. Johnson & Johnson have also won their case on several occasions.