Talcum powder, commonly known as baby powder, has been a product on store shelves for decades. It is used to dry skin and avoid irritation. But new research has shown that this ubiquitous product may be more dangerous than it seems.
That’s why a huge ruling against Johnson & Johnson to the tune of $4.69 billion dollars, yes with a b, was just upheld by a Missouri judge. Johnson & Johnson plans to continue appeals, but this is just the largest of the lawsuits that have been ruled against the company for talcum powder-related health issues. There are 10,600 other cases filed against them on this matter.
John Foy, a talcum powder lawsuit lawyer, believes that these cases could be as big and widespread as the recent Takata airbag recall involving millions of vehicles. Talc-based baby powders have been used by millions of women over decades. The claim by the 22 families in this case is that the talc used to create the baby powder contains asbestos and caused ovarian cancer in women. Talc, one of the softest stones, is often found near asbestos.
Johnson & Johnson claims that their products do not contain asbestos, but according to memos Johnson & Johnson not only knew about the possibility of asbestos contamination but knew about it 40 years ago and chose to hide it. Asbestos traces were found at a Vermont talc mine in the 70s and two reports were generated on the topics internally at Johnson & Johnson. This contradicted other internal memos that their lawyers claimed proved the company never found asbestos in their products.
The reason for the damages being so large is the billions in punitive damages. The science about whether or not talc itself can cause ovarian and other cancers is unclear. But asbestos has long been linked to specific cancers, most notably mesothelioma. If more testing at talc mines shows that asbestos is getting through into products, Johnson & Johnson will have very little room to defend their claims.
The company has been able to throw out other verdicts on appeal. They believe that science shows talc is safe and that their products have never contained asbestos. However, these memos will make it much more difficult to do so. Also, science is still investigating the link between talc and cancer. Talc particles have been found in ovarian tumors in decades, but it is unclear if it is a cause or just gets caught by the tumor due to heavy use by women over time.
Unusually for a large company, Johnson & Johnson has refused to settle any of the cases brought before it so far. It is choosing to fight them all in court. Perhaps it’s because they know their legal exposure is huge if they give the slightest indication that talcum powder can cause cancer. Regardless, many doctors are now recommending that women stop using talc-based body powders of any kind until these cases and the science conclusively prove or disprove the cancer link.