In recent years, talc-based baby powder has been scrutinized for its safety. A series of talc lawsuits allege that the product is contaminated with a known carcinogen and has caused sickness in people around the world.
When you think of harmful products, the last thing that comes to mind is baby powder. Generations of people — from babies to adults — have used baby powder to keep skin dry and avoid blisters and rashes.
One of the largest manufacturers of talc baby powder, Johnson & Johnson, is famous for its focus on “the needs and well-being of the people we serve.”
But recent events seem to challenge this commitment. The claims from the talc lawsuits have prompted the question: Did Johnson & Johnson hide the dangers of its baby powder?
Johnson & Johnson’s Talc Baby Powder
Talc is a soft silicate mineral that occurs naturally in the earth’s crust. It is crushed into a fine, soft powder called talcum powder.
Talc is used in a variety of industrial products such as paint, paper, rubber, and ceramics. It’s also used in a number of cosmetics and feminine hygiene products like deodorant.
Johnson & Johnson discovered that talc-based powder prevented diaper rash in babies. In 1893, the company introduced one of its most iconic products, Johnson & Johnson Baby Powder, to the market.
Then, Johnson & Johnson started to market to women.
Marketing Talc to Women
Feminine hygiene is a multi-billion-dollar market. Women in the U.S. spend more than $2 billion a year on feminine hygiene products such as pads, tampons, sprays, wipes & powders.
Johnson & Johnson capitalized on this by introducing Shower to Shower, a talc-based body powder created specifically for women.
For years, Johnson & Johnson’s advertising campaigns exploited women’s desires to feel sexy and smell good. Its marketing implied that “a sprinkle a day” was critical to a woman’s personal daily hygiene.
The Link Between Talc and Ovarian Cancer
Talc is generally considered safe. But in its natural form, some talc may contain asbestos. Asbestos is known to cause cancers in and around the lungs when inhaled, including deadly cancer called mesothelioma.
Asbestos-related diseases usually arise after years of regular exposure to the toxic mineral. This long-term exposure can occur with talc-based baby powder.
According to the World Health Organization, no amount of asbestos is considered safe. For some people, exposure to even tiny amounts of asbestos is enough to trigger the development of cancer cells, sometimes years later.
Starting in the 1960s, researchers allegedly discovered asbestos particles in samples of Johnson & Johnson baby powder. The company rejected these studies, claiming the labs were contaminated or the researchers used flawed testing methodologies.
Since the 1960s, independent and internal company testing of Johnson & Johnson baby powder has produced inconclusive results.
However, recent studies suggest a link between talcum powder and ovarian cancer.
One study concluded that women who have used talcum powder are about 30% more likely to be diagnosed with ovarian cancer than women who have not. Another study found that African American women who used talcum powder on their genitals had a 44% increased risk of ovarian cancer.
Johnson & Johnson has always publicly denied its talcum powder products may cause cancer. However, documents unsealed in 2017 revealed Johnson & Johnson company executives were aware of asbestos liabilities as early as the 1970s.
In December 2018, Reuters published a report that was based on internal company memos and other documents. The report noted that for decades, Johnson & Johnson had been aware that its talcum powder was sometimes contaminated with asbestos. However, the company failed to notify regulators — and did not warn the public.
Key takeaways from the Reuters Report:
- Lab reports from 1957 & 1958 showed talc from Johnson & Johnson’s Italian supplier had been contaminated with asbestos;
- Johnson & Johnson’s raw talc and powders continued to test positive on occasion for small amounts of asbestos from 1971 – 2003;
- Johnson & Johnson vigorously denied the allegations in a statement on its website and called the story an “absurd conspiracy theory” and continued to defend its baby powder as “safe and asbestos-free”;
- On October 18, 2019, Johnson & Johnson issued a voluntary recall for ONE lot of their baby powder after a U.S. Food & Drug Administration test found trace levels of chrysotile asbestos contamination.
Talc Lawsuits: The View from the Courtroom
The first talcum powder lawsuit against Johnson & Johnson was filed in 2013 by Deane Berg, a 49-year-old physician’s assistant from Sioux Falls, SD. Ms. Berg developed ovarian cancer in 2006 and alleged that her cancer was caused by Johnson & Johnson’s product.
Johnson & Johnson offered Berg a $1.3 million onside trial settlement, which she declined. She was later granted a unanimous verdict against Johnson & Johnson, but the jury did not award Ms. Berg monetary compensation.
Soon, other talc lawsuits followed.
In February 2016, a Missouri state jury ordered Johnson & Johnson to pay $72 million to the family of a woman whose death from ovarian cancer was allegedly linked to her use of talc-based powders. The verdict included $10 million in actual damages and $62 million in punitive damages. It was the first damages awarded by a jury in a talcum powder ovarian cancer lawsuit.
In May 2016, a St. Louis jury ordered Johnson & Johnson to pay $55 million to a 62-year-old South Dakota woman. Jurors agreed the company’s products, such as Johnson’s Baby Powder and Shower to Shower, contributed to the development of her ovarian cancer.
By September 2016, at least 1,800 lawsuits had been filed against Johnson & Johnson in St. Louis over the company’s talc-based powder products.
To date, more than $5 billion has been awarded to plaintiffs involving Johnson & Johnson Baby Powder and Shower to Shower products.
Defendants have won SOME cases, but overall, juries have returned billions of dollars in verdicts for plaintiffs. Most settlements have been with individual plaintiffs for undisclosed amounts.
And lawsuits continue to pour in.
As of 2020, Johnson & Johnson faced 19,109 cases consolidated in the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey – with hundreds more pending in state courts.
Plaintiff’s attorneys revealed at trial that many of the manufacturers knew about the potential dangers since the early 1970s. Attorneys allege that the manufacturers not only failed to warn the public about these dangers but actively promoted these products to women and children.
Talc Lawsuits Abound: What Now?
Despite the verdicts favoring plaintiffs, Johnson & Johnson denies any association between their products and ovarian cancer.
However, in 2019 the company recalled 33,000 bottles of baby powder after the FDA said they found trace amounts of asbestos in a bottle purchased online.
In May 2020, Johnson & Johnson announced that demand for its talc-based baby powder had declined due to “changes in consumer habits” and was “fueled by misinformation around the safety of the product and a constant barrage of litigation advertising.” Because of this, the company decided that it would no longer sell talc-based Johnson’s Baby Powder in the U.S. and Canada.
The company has since replaced the talc in their newly-manufactured powder products with corn starch. However, talc-based products can still be found in brick-and-mortar and online stores in the U.S. and Canada. Consumers should exercise caution when purchasing body powders and carefully read all product labels to ensure they don’t contain talcum powder.
To date, Johnson & Johnson has been sued in talc lawsuits more than 19,000 times over safety concerns raised about the long-term use of the product.
Contact a Lawyer About Talc Lawsuits and Your Rights
If you developed cancer or other health issues that may be linked to using talc, you may be entitled to compensation for your losses.
At VanDerGinst Law, we are here to listen to your story and we offer a free consultation for your injury case.
We have knowledgeable and experienced attorneys who can help guide you through the complexities of your case and help you obtain the financial compensation you deserve.