Johnson’s Baby Powder has been a household staple for decades. Used to absorb moisture and aid in hygiene, the soft sweet-scented powder can be found in many a bathroom closet in the U.S.
Last Friday, the makers of the baby powder, Johnson & Johnson, found themselves out of the closet and in headline news over information that company executives have known for more than 40 years that the raw talc and finished powders have tested positive at times for small quantities of asbestos. Asbestos has been proved to cause cancer; there are no safe limits.
The reason asbestos is in the talc is that they are both minerals that naturally form together. Deposits of talc are commonly contaminated with asbestos and asbestos-like fibers. J&J crushes talc to get the silky soft substance that families have been using for generations to feel fresh.
What’s as troubling as the findings that there is asbestos in Johnson’s Baby Powder at times in trace amounts, is that company executives did nothing to alert regulators or consumers about the asbestos-laced talc but rather took great effort to squelch the information, as reported by Reuters.
Reuters exposed this troubling information through a tedious review of company memos, internal documents, and emails, writings that were held tightly by the company and courts involved in recent lawsuits against J&J but recently made public. The damning information finally became public thanks to pressure put on the courts and company by attorneys representing 11,700 plaintiffs claiming the company’s talc caused their cancers — including thousands of women with ovarian cancer. Throughout these lawsuits, J&J’s attorneys have vehemently denied that its talc contained asbestos.
The link between ovarian cancer and talc is not conclusive. It’s also not clear that the tiny amounts of asbestos reported in J&J’s past testing were capable of causing the cancers among the women involved in the lawsuits. What is indisputable is that asbestos is a well-established carcinogen.
Stronger Case for Plaintiffs in Talc Lawsuits
Armed with the information that there have been trace amounts of asbestos found in J&J’s talc, plaintiffs’ lawyers were able to shape a stronger argument against the company.
Last July, a jury in St. Louis awarded $550 million in actual damages and $4.14 billion in punitive damages in a lawsuit against J&J over claims its talc caused ovarian cancer in women who had used the company’s product for years. Twenty-two plaintiffs were involved; the families of each were awarded $25 million each.
Interesting how the jurors determined the amount of punitive damage; they multiplied the approximately $70 million J&J earned selling baby powder in an average year by the 43 years it had been since the company claimed the baby powder did not contain asbestos.
In his statement, lead plaintiffs’ counsel Mark Lanier of Houston, said Johnson & Johnson “should pull talc from the market before causing further anguish, harm, and death from a terrible disease. J&J sells the same powders in a marvelously safe corn starch variety. If J&J insists on continuing to sell talc, they should mark it with a serious warning.”
Talcum powder and asbestos are associated with other cancers besides ovarian, most notably mesothelioma and lung cancer.
FDA Doesn’t Test Cosmetics for Safety
Of concern is that talcum is found in other cosmetics, such as face powder lipstick, mascara, eye shadow, blush, and lotion. However, the FDA does not test cosmetics for safety. Except color additives, neither makeup nor any of its ingredients require the agency’s approval. The agency says it takes the possible presence of asbestos in cosmetics very seriously, but that manufacturers and marketers are responsible for their safety.
The FDA points to voluntary standards set by the manufacturers’ trade association. When safety concerns of talc presented themselves in the 1970s, the Cosmetic, Toiletry and Fragrance Association (now the Personal Care Products Council) asked its members to use only asbestos-free talc moving forward. The problem is that there have been no government regulations to ensure this measure was implemented. The FDA is not required to test cosmetic products or their ingredients.
Talc is also used in other non-cosmetic products, such as pharmaceutical pills, chewing gum, crayons and children’s toys.
American Cancer Society Edits Web Site
Just recently, since Reuters began working on the story, the American Cancer Society changed the wording on its website regarding talc. Previously, the ACS stated that: “All talcum products used in homes have been asbestos-free since the 1970s”; now it states that products produced in the US “should be free from detectable amounts of asbestos.”
Will Johnson & Johnson halt the production of its iconic baby powder in light of the situation? Probably not. Consider that by doing so, the move may be construed as an admission of wrongdoing, prompting even more lawsuits than already exist.
Call us for Help
If you have suffered ovarian cancer and you suspect that baby powder may have contributed, please call us at Casey Law Offices: 414-272-3776.
The Reuters report can be found here: https://www.reuters.com/investigates/special-report/johnsonandjohnson-cancer/