Talcum body powders have been considered a mainstay in infant care and personal hygiene throughout the world for over a century, ever since they were first produced in the late 1800’s. Most consumers recognize talc as a major ingredient in Johnson’s Baby Powder, leading them to assume that talc products must be especially “gentle” and safe. In reality, many physicians, researchers, and even regulatory authorities have shown concern over the serious possible health risks posed by talc powder.
Feminine Hygiene Talc Linked To Ovarian Cancer
Dozens of medical studies published over the past 45 years have revealed a potential link between talcum powder application to the female genital area and elevated ovarian cancer risks. The leading talc product manufacturer, healthcare conglomerate Johnson & Johnson, has publicly acknowledged that numerous medical studies conclude genital talc use may raise ovarian cancer risks by 30% or more, but dismisses this research as “inconclusive.” To this day, the company has yet to include cancer warnings on any of its talc product labels.
Now, around 2,000 talc powder lawsuits are pending in district courts across the nation, filed by women diagnosed with advanced ovarian cancer after years of applying the talcum powders made by well-established brands. These plaintiffs say that Johnson & Johnson, along with other talc industry giants, not only failed to warn consumers of risks, but deliberately worked with one another to fight talc regulation at all costs – concealing the growing evidence of talc’s association with ovarian cancer.
Talcum Powder Products – A History
Talc is a common silicate mineral noted for being exceptionally soft – in fact, it’s among the softest naturally-occurring substances on Earth, with a rating of 1 on the Mohs’ Hardness Scale. This property stems from talc’s easily-cleaved crystal structure, typically consisting of thin, sheet-like layers that are very loosely held together. You can read more about talc on the Industrial Minerals Association website.
Because of its softness, talc makes an excellent lubricant. It also readily absorbs oil, odors, and moisture. These characteristics make talc extremely useful in a variety of industries, such as ceramics, food, pharmaceuticals, and the manufacture of paper, rubber and paint. However, the mineral is best known as the leading ingredient in baby powder, a product designed to prevent or alleviate diaper rash.
Invention Of Baby Powder
Johnson’s Baby Powder was first developed in the late 19th century by Dr. Frederick Kilmer, Johnson & Johnson’s director of scientific affairs at the time.
Back then, J&J’s main industry was producing surgical dressings and medicated plasters – plaster products mixed with medicinal compounds to treat minor ailments such as joint and muscle pain. These products were sold with an adhesive surface and a fabric backing, and consumers would press them directly onto their skin, much like modern bandages. In 1892, however, Johnson & Johnson began receiving letters from customers complaining of skin irritation after applying their plasters. Dr. Kilmer responded by sending talc powder to ease the redness and inflammation.
This solution was well-received, with some customers even informing Dr. Kilmer that they were using the powder while diapering their infants. J&J quickly decided to capitalize on the positive response and start up a new product line. In 1893, the company released Johnson’s Baby Powder, its first talcum product labeled for “toilet and nursery” use – metal tins containing a mixture of Italian talc, medicated plaster and a subtle, distinctive perfume.
J&J Encourages Women To Use Baby Powder
Baby powder soon became an ubiquitous household item, as it is today. With the aid of countless advertising campaigns, the product’s signature scent in particular became practically synonymous with babies and everything fresh, clean, and pure in the minds of many consumers.
This association also made talcum powder highly appealing to women for personal use, so J&J wasted no time in expanding its marketing strategy to target women specifically, employing ads and product slogans depicting the product as an essential part of feminine hygiene.
The marketing worked. Today, over 25% of American women report using talc as body powder or as a deodorant on their underwear or sanitary napkins – even though many physicians consider these practices to be purely cosmetic and utterly “unnecessary” in proper personal hygiene.
First Talc Powder & Cancer Alert – Asbestos Contamination
A major upheaval in the booming talc product industry occurred in the early 1970’s, when regulatory authorities, including the Environmental Protection Agency, enacted a series of bans on asbestos, a category of minerals now known to cause lung cancer and other serious respiratory conditions.
Talc in its natural form.
Before that time, it was common for commercial talcum powder to contain some level of asbestos, since talc mining sites are often found in close proximity to asbestos deposits. the carcinogenic properties of asbestos weren’t firmly established by researchers until around the late 1960’s. But once the health risks of asbestos were confirmed, the FDA proposed regulations to prohibit asbestos-contaminated cosmetic talc in 1972, according to researchers at Princeton University. Talc companies started working to eliminate asbestos from their products.
Some manufacturers chose to stop using talc completely, changing the main ingredient in their baby and body powders to cornstarch. Others, like Johnson & Johnson, chose to continue using talc, but demanded stricter mining standards from their talc suppliers and improved quality control measures to guard against asbestos contamination. Today, talc powder companies claim that their products are completely free of asbestos, although, as reporters at FairWarning.com have noted, recent studies and court verdicts suggest this may not always be the case.
Does Asbestos-Free Talc Also Raise Cancer Risk?
Even during the rise of the asbestos controversy, researchers were already uncovering evidence suggesting that talc itself could be carcinogenic.
Talc Detected In Ovarian Tumors
In 1971, scientists from Wales published a study in which ovarian and cervical tumors were examined under a microscope. Talc particles were found “deeply embedded” within the tissues from the majority of the samples, 10 out of a total of 13.
In pondering this result, the study’s lead author W.J. Henderson pointedly mentioned talc’s “close association” with asbestos. Indeed, asbestos, a group of 6 minerals that all share the ability to form long, extremely thin fibers, are silicate compounds, just like talc. Chrysotile, one of the more common types of asbestos, is even classified in the phyllosilicates – the same silicate subgroup that talc belongs to.
Threefold Risk Of Ovarian Cancer From Talc Use
A 1982 study performed by Dr. Daniel Cramer and his team of researchers from Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston found that women with regular genital exposure to talcum powder, either through direct application of the powder to the perineum or through talc-dusted sanitary napkins, were twice as likely to develop ovarian cancer than women who didn’t use talc. Women who routinely experienced both types of exposure were found to have an ovarian cancer risk three times higher than those with no history of genital talc use.
Cramer, like Henderson before him, also commented on talc’s chemical similarity to asbestos, pointing out that although talc’s structure is usually “plate-like” in nature, it sometimes takes the form of asbestos-like bundles of fibers.
Were Women Warned Of Talc’s Possible Risks?
Many women express utter shock upon learning about research on the association between talc and ovarian cancer. Talc products, such as baby and body powders, have been (and still are) promoted as safe and “gentle” by leading manufacturers such as Johnson & Johnson.
Deane Berg, the first woman to file a talcum powder lawsuit against Johnson & Johnson, speaks in interviews about the moment she discovered that talc may be an ovarian cancer risk factor. Prior to that time, she’d used talc for feminine hygiene as a comforting daily ritual—she’d never imagined that her Johnson’s Baby Powder could possibly harbor serious risks. Today, Berg is just one among thousands of women who have chosen to file suit against Johnson & Johnson over their own cases of ovarian cancer.
Huge Talcum Verdicts Favor Plaintiffs
Three recent talc lawsuit verdicts, in which juries elected to award millions of dollars in damages to plaintiffs, are an encouraging legal development for talc powder victims.
Currently, about 2000 talcum lawsuits filed by cancer patients and their families are pending in district courts across the country. These talc lawsuits are so numerous that courts have been consolidating them at the local and state level, by allowing them to proceed through pre-trial procedures together. This is done in cases with significant similarities, in order to save precious court time and resources. Many of the talc lawsuits are filed against the same set of defendants, namely, Johnson & Johnson and its talc suppliers, and also contain a number of identical allegations against these companies.
Berg Verdict: J&J Found Guilty, But No Damages Granted
Deane Berg filed the very first talcum powder lawsuit back in 2009. Berg habitually used talc powder for feminine hygiene purposes for nearly all of her adult life. But in 2006, after being diagnosed with advanced ovarian cancer, she came across a talc powder commercial from a personal injury law firm that discussed the link between ovarian cancer and genital talc use.
Outraged, Berg filed suit against Johnson & Johnson and Imerys Talc, accusing the companies of failing to warn consumers of the serious possible health risks of their products.
After surviving Johnson & Johnson’s multiple attempts to secure an outright dismissal from the court, Berg’s lawsuit went to trial in 2013. Before the judge and jury, Berg, along with her lawyers and expert witnesses, described:
- Over 40 years of more than 20 studies linking ovarian cancer to genital talc use
- J&J’s repeated refusal to include cancer warnings on their talc products, despite multiple requests from respected scientists and cancer research organizations over the years
- Evidence of J&J working with other talc companies to cover up or downplay any research supporting the ovarian cancer – talcum powder link.
Ultimately, the South Dakota jury decided that J&J was indeed liable for negligence and failure to warn consumers. However, the jury decided against awarding compensation to Berg for the pain, suffering, and considerable medical expenses caused by her ovarian cancer. Berg attempted to appeal this decision, but the judge denied the appeal, saying that Berg had already chosen to accept the jury’s decision.
First Verdicts Opens Door For Other Cancer Patients
Though disappointed by the jury’s withholding of compensation, Berg stands by her decision to file suit. In an interview with the New York Post, she explained that Johnson & Johnson had actually come to her before the trial and offered a hefty settlement. But Berg would only receive the settlement if she agreed to withdraw her lawsuit and keep quiet about her accusations, which was something that she couldn’t do in good conscience. For Berg, it was “never about the money”—she mainly filed her case to help warn other women of the potential risks of using baby powder in feminine hygiene.
Berg’s attempt to “blow the whistle” on talcum powder’s potential risks was successful. Three years after her lawsuit reached its strange conclusion, thousands of other women have filed lawsuits, hoping to hold Johnson & Johnson accountable for what they say is an utter failure to alert consumers to a serious health risk. State court juries have agreed. To date, three juries in St. Louis, Missouri have chosen to award ovarian cancer patients and their families nearly $200 million in compensation.
How A Talcum Powder Lawyer Can Help
Legal experts believe that thousands of women have yet to step forward and join the Johnson & Johnson talcum powder litigation. Our experienced talc attorneys can help.
If you or a loved one developed ovarian cancer after using talcum powder for years, contact The Product Lawyers today for a free consultation. Our attorneys have already helped numerous people who were injured by consumer products pursue justice and financial compensation – all on a contingency-fee basis. Our clients never pay us anything until we secure compensation in their cases. Just call today to learn more about your rights and options at no charge and no obligation.