Asbestos and Talcum Powder the Connection

By - July 1, 2019
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Talc is a soft, natural mineral that is used for many consumer and industrial purposes. In the consumer market, it is used most often in baby powder and cosmetics. Talc is found in rock deposits frequently near asbestos, so it is easy for talcum powder to be contaminated with the human carcinogen that is known to cause mesothelioma and ovarian cancer. In recent times, this fact has led to great concern that people using talcum powder could be exposed to asbestos. (mesothelioma.com)

Talcum Powder and Asbestos

The safety of talcum powder is being questioned a lot these days. While pure talc is usually considered safe, talcum powder that is laced with asbestos is definitely a problem that can cause cancer.

In 1973, FDA devised new standards that stated talcum powder must be completely tested to ensure it is free of asbestos. This is a rule that is still in place today. But in the last few years, there have been many reports and lawsuits that show Johnson & Johnson was aware decades ago that some of its talcum powder did have asbestos in it. For example, the company did studies of one mine in Vermont and traces of asbestos fibers were found in talcum powder samples.

Because of this asbestos contamination, many workers in various occupations could be at risk of cancer, as well as consumers who face dangers from contaminated talcum powder and assorted cosmetics. Talcum powder is used all the time in these common consumer products, making it easy for the powder to be inhaled. Also, women who use baby powder on their genitals are at higher risk of ovarian cancer if the powder has any trace of asbestos.

More Concerns About Consumer Products With Asbestos

In addition to the above consumer products, there have been other cases in recent years where other consumer products with talcum powder could have asbestos in them. Consumers became worried quickly after there were reports of asbestos in makeup for children, such as products at Justice stores and Claire’s in 2018. Several consumer investigations did confirm the presence of asbestos in some of these products, such as Claire eyeshadow. But the impact of this exposure would not be clear for many years, as it can take years for some asbestos-related diseases to develop.

The Reuters Report and What J&J Knew

One of the most damning pieces of evidence against J&J emerged in 2018 in baby powder cancer lawsuit. The company was forced to share thousands of company memos, internal reports and other documents with attorneys with some of the thousands of plaintiffs that claim its talcum powder products cause cancer.

A Reuters review of these documents showed from the 1970s through the early 2000s, the company knew some of its raw talc and even finished talcum powder did test positive for traces of asbestos. Documents also made clear that executives, doctors, and scientists talked about the problem but never did anything to warn the public of the risk of talcum powder tainted with asbestos in its products.

The internal documents also showed the company was successful in influencing US regulators’ efforts to reduce asbestos in talcum powder products.

The first mention of tainted talcum powder came in documents in the late 1950s. The documents describe asbestos in talc from several Italian mines. Also, at various times in the early 2000s, reports from company scientists also found similar results. The reports pinpointed asbestos in talc and finished products and mentioned the risk several times.

However, in 1976, as FDA was mulling placing limits on asbestos in talcum powder products, J&J told the federal regulator that there was no asbestos found in any samples taken in 1972 or 1973. But it did not mention to FDA that at least three of its tests between 1972 and 1975 did find asbestos in talc.

Further, the Reuters examination shows that J&J’s testing methods only improved over time and there were limitations on how well it could detect trace contaminants such as asbestos. (Reuters.com)

Talcum Powder and the Risk of Cancer

Clinical studies emerged years ago that linked asbestos-laced talc with cancer risks. The first connection to cancer came in the 1970s when doctors found many cases of ovarian cancer where there were talc particles buried in the tumors. They thought the talc could cause a higher risk for ovarian cancer and other forms of the disease. Whether asbestos-free talcum powder can cause cancer is still an open question, but it is a fact that talcum powder contaminated with asbestos does cause cancer.

Talcum Powder Cancer Lawsuits

That is why thousands of Americans have filed personal injury lawsuits against Johnson & Johnson and various manufacturers of baby powder products. There are currently at least 12,000 baby powder cancer lawsuits pending in federal and state courts. At least 9,000 of them are related to ovarian cancer, but there are more cases appearing where the powder may have caused the person’s mesothelioma. Some of these talcum powder lawsuits have led to major verdicts and settlements.

Some of the major cases against J&J and other companies have been:

  • 2019: A state jury in New York hit J&J with a $325 million verdict in favor of a woman diagnosed with mesothelioma in 2016. Her lawyers showed company evidence that J&J was aware some of its baby powder contained asbestos. (mesowatch.com)
  • 2015: A woman won $13 million in California in a mesothelioma lawsuit against Johnson & Johnson and Colgate-Palmolive, after showing evidence that use of their products led to her cancer.
  • 2015 and 2016: Whittaker Clark and Daniels lost $7 million and $18 million verdicts for asbestos in their Desert Flower and Clubman talcum powder products.
  • 2018: J&J had to pay $117 million to a man who used baby powder products for years and developed mesothelioma.

As more lawsuits are being publicized and more verdicts and settlements are decided, it is obvious there is a strong connection between asbestos and talcum powder. A person who uses talcum powder with asbestos in it has a higher risk of various asbestos-related cancers.

References

J&J and Cancer Risk. (2019). Retrieved from https://www.reuters.com/investigates/special-report/johnsonandjohnson-cancer/

Talcum Powder. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.mesothelioma.com/asbestos-exposure/products/talc-powder/

J&J to Pay $325 Million in Talcum Powder Lawsuit. (2018). Retrieved from https://mesowatch.com/jury-orders-johnson-johnson-to-pay-325m-in-talcum-powder-lawsuit/

Melinda J.
Melinda J.

Editor-in-Chief of TalcumPowderSafety. Since 1999, she's worked across a multitude of areas of consumer protection including defective products, environmental issues, identity theft, predatory lending and more.

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