Talcum powder has long been claimed to be safe by Johnson & Johnson and other companies. But the fact is that deadly asbestos fibers can sometimes be found in some talcum powder, which can lead to mesothelioma cancer in some users. Also, there is a continuing debate about the possibility of pure talcum powder causing serious health risks, including mesothelioma and ovarian cancer. (cancer.org)
Below is what you need to know about this danger to your health, as well as possible legal options.
Talcum Powder Overview
Talcum powder is derived from talc, which is made up primarily of magnesium, silicon, and oxygen. It is often used in cosmetic products, such as Johnson & Johnson Baby Powder.
In its natural form, some talc does contain asbestos, which is well known to cause cancer, including mesothelioma and ovarian cancer.
In 1976, the Cosmetic, Toiletry, and Fragrances Association (CTFA) released guidelines stating that all talcum powder that is used in cosmetic products in the US should not have any tract of asbestos in it. Most of the concerns about a link between talcum powder and mesothelioma and ovarian cancer are focused on:
- Whether consumers who have been exposed in the long term to talc particles are at higher risk of mesothelioma by breathing them in.
- Whether women who apply talcum powder products to their genitals have a higher risk of mesothelioma and ovarian cancer.
The Evidence on Talcum Powder and Cancer
When discussing whether talcum powder causes mesothelioma, is it key to point out the difference between the talc that contains asbestos and talc that does not. Talc that has asbestos in it is known to cause mesothelioma and other cancers if it is inhaled. The evidence about talc that does not contain asbestos is not as clear, but it is concerning many in the scientific community.
Clinical researchers have used two major sorts of research studies to determine if a specific substance such as talcum powder can mesothelioma and other cancers:
- Laboratory studies: Studies done in the laboratory have animals exposed to talcum powder in large doses to see if it leads to tumors and other serious health problems. Clinical researchers also may expose regular cells in a laboratory dish to talcum powder to see if it leads to changes we see in cancer cells. It is not always obvious from these studies if the result will apply to humans. But laboratory studies are an excellent way to determine if a substance may cause cancer.
- Human studies: These studies examine different cancer rates in various groups of people. These studies look at the cancer rate in a group exposed to talcum powder to the rate of the group that was not so exposed.
For both types of studies, there is usually not enough evidence on its own to be conclusive, so researchers look at both to determine if a substance actually causes cancer.
Expert Agencies Weigh In
Several international and national agencies study many substances in the environment to determine if they may lead to cancer. First, the International Agency for Research on Cancer or IARC has classified talc that has asbestos in it as a carcinogen for humans. This means that baby powder that has asbestos in it can cause mesothelioma in humans. The IARC has not at this time classified talcum powder without asbestos as a carcinogen to humans, but evidence has come in from other sources to belie this claim.
Johnson & Johnson Lawsuits Over the Talcum Powder – Mesothelioma Link
There have been many talcum powder lawsuits in recent years over a possible connection between baby powder inhalation and mesothelioma.
For example, in June 2019, a state jury in New York ordered J&J to pay more than $300 million in punitive damages to a woman and her husband who claimed its talcum powder made her develop mesothelioma. (asbestos.com). The same jury gave that couple $25 million in compensation just days earlier.
That verdict is one of the biggest in more than 36 months of lawsuits over Johnson & Johnson’s assorted baby powder products. Plaintiffs in these cases believe the talc once had asbestos in it, which causes mesothelioma.
Presence of Asbestos in Talcum Powder Still Hotly Debated
Spokespersons for Johnson & Johnson claim that ‘decades of tests’ by experts and academic institutions have ‘confirmed’ that its Baby Powder does not have asbestos in it or lead to mesothelioma or ovarian cancer.
J&J current faces more than 14,000 talc-product claims. Only a small number of them involve mesothelioma cancer, with the rest related to ovarian cancer.
The Johnson & Johnson Coverup
Unsealed documents from more than 30 years ago have suggested that J&J knew some of their talcum powder contained asbestos and they hid it. These documents came to light in a lawsuit in 2017 by 50 women in St. Louis. They claimed that baby powder caused them to develop mesothelioma and ovarian cancer. (Nytimes.com)
An internal report from J&J in 1973 did acknowledge that asbestos was present in one of the company’s talc mines in Vermont. The report stated that some baby powder made from those mines had small levels of several types of asbestos. Also, a document from 1974 showed the R&D director at the Vermont mine knew there was asbestos contamination present.
It also has been shown in lawsuits that J&J hid knowledge of talc contaminated with asbestos they purchased from a mine in Italy. Documents showed that a research scientist for the company told the owners of the mine to not give out an English version of documents that discussed the asbestos levels in the talc.
It is clear that talcum powder contaminated with asbestos can cause mesothelioma in some people. FDA in 2009 did some limited tests of cosmetic products in the US and did not find any contaminated with the carcinogen. (FDA.gov). But many say the testing was too limited and the current methods of testing talc for asbestos are not sensitive enough. The jury is still out on whether talcum powder that is free of asbestos can lead to cancer, but there have been many verdicts that confirm a link between ‘clean’ talcum powder and ovarian cancer.
If you have been diagnosed with mesothelioma and were regularly exposed to baby powder, you should speak to a talcum powder cancer attorney today. You could be entitled to damages in a personal injury lawsuit, or if your loved one died, damages in a wrongful death lawsuit.
J&J Baby Powder Verdict. (2019). Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2018/12/19/business/johnson-johnson-baby-powder-verdict.html
Talcum Powder and Cancer. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancer-causes/talcum-powder-and-cancer.html
J&J Talcum Powder Verdict. (2019). Retrieved from https://www.asbestos.com/news/2019/06/03/johnson-johnson-asbestos-talc-verdict/
Talc. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.fda.gov/cosmetics/cosmetic-ingredients/talc