Johnson & Johnson’s best-selling Baby Powder was pulled from the market this week after more than 125 years, amid thousands of claims that the talc-based powder caused women to develop ovarian cancer and other types of cancer. The healthcare products company issued a press release on May 19, announcing the discontinuation of talc-based Baby Powder products in the United States and Canada, citing declining sales due to “changes in consumer habits and fueled by misinformation around the safety of the product and a constant barrage of litigation advertising.” Johnson & Johnson faces nearly 20,000 lawsuits filed on behalf of women who developed ovarian cancer, mesothelioma and other devastating side effects allegedly caused by exposure to the company’s talc-based powder products, which may be contaminated with asbestos.
Johnson’s Baby Powder was first introduced in the United States in 1894 and has been a staple of the healthcare products company for more than 12 decades. Generations of women used Johnson’s Baby Powder for feminine hygiene purposes, to control moisture and odor, and the company promoted the powder as pure and gentle enough for babies. In recent years, however, Johnson & Johnson has faced increased scrutiny over the safety of its talc-based Baby Powder and Shower-to-Shower body powder products, which have been linked to a potential increased risk of cancer. The majority of the lawsuits pending against Johnson & Johnson involve claims of ovarian cancer among women who routinely applied the powder to their genital area, although a growing number of claims involve plaintiffs who allegedly developed mesothelioma after inhaling asbestos fibers in contaminated talcum powder.
The problem with Johnson’s talcum powder is that it contains talc, a clay mineral known for its softness. As a powder, talc is useful in reducing moisture, cutting down on friction and eliminating odor, which led women to use it as part of their feminine hygiene routine. While talc itself is not known to pose any health risks, the mineral naturally occurs near asbestos in the earth and can easily become contaminated with asbestos fibers during the mining process. Asbestos is a known carcinogen, meaning it can cause cancer in humans, and plaintiffs’ lawyers argue that talcum powders containing asbestos, even in microscopic amounts, can cause cancer. Asbestos was first linked to ovarian cancer in 1958 and it is also the only known cause of mesothelioma, a cancer that develops in the tissue lining the lungs, stomach, heart and other organs.
Plaintiffs involved in the growing talcum powder litigation allege that Johnson & Johnson knew for decades that its talc products were contaminated with asbestos, a known carcinogen, and was aware of the potential risk of cancer posed by exposure to asbestos. The company is accused of deliberately withholding this information from consumers and the medical community and continuing to market the products as safe and effective despite being concerned for at least 50 years about the possibility of its talc products containing traces of asbestos. A Reuters special report published in December 2018 indicated that “from at least 1971 to the early 2000s, the company’s raw talc and finished powders sometimes tested positive for small amounts of asbestos, and that company executives, mine managers, scientists, doctors and lawyers fretted over the problem and how to address it while failing to disclose it to regulators or the public.”
Despite growing evidence of a talcum powder-cancer link, Johnson & Johnson vehemently denies any connection between its talc-based Baby Powder and cancer. The company has said that it “remains steadfastly confident in the safety of talc-based Johnson’s Baby Powder,” blaming faulty testing and incompetent researchers for any findings that its powders were contaminated with asbestos, and that it will “continue to vigorously defend the product, its safety, and the unfounded allegations against it” at trial. However, the fact that Johnson’s is pulling its talc-based Baby Powder from the market suggests that the company may soon consider negotiating talcum powder cancer settlements.
Johnson & Johnson has already been hit with several multimillion-dollar verdicts in trials involving plaintiffs who were diagnosed with cancer following years of talcum powder use. The lawsuits each involve similar allegations, that as a direct result of Johnson’s failure to provide adequate warnings about the potential risk of cancer associated with talcum powder, women nationwide continued using the product for feminine hygiene purposes for years, unaware that the powder could cause them to develop cancer. In the very first case to go to court over talcum powder cancer claims, Johnson & Johnson was ordered to pay $4.69 billion in damages to 22 women and their families who claimed that asbestos in Johnson’s talc-based Baby Powder caused them to develop ovarian cancer diagnoses.
Johnson & Johnson reports that it will allow retailers to sell existing bottles of Baby Powder until they run out and that the company will continue selling Baby Powder products containing cornstarch, which have not been implicated in the ongoing talcum powder litigation. In the meantime, Imerys Talc, the company responsible for supplying the raw talc used in Johnson & Johnson talc-based products, announced this week that it plans to auction off subsidiaries and talc mines in the United States and Canada in order to fund a settlement with talc plaintiffs. If you or someone you love has been diagnosed with ovarian cancer, mesothelioma or another serious side effect allegedly caused by Johnson’s talc-based Baby Powder, do not hesitate to seek legal help. You may have grounds to file a talcum powder cancer lawsuit against Johnson & Johnson and an experienced product liability lawyer can help.