What is Talcum Powder and Why it May Cause Cancer

Talcum powder is an ingredient used in some baby powders and have recently been linked to ovarian cancer. This has triggered an onslaught of lawsuits against the manufacturers.

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Talcum Powder Based Products Being Discontinued

" Johnson & Johnson discontinues talc-based baby powder in US "

Johnson & Johnson discontinues talc-based baby powder in U.S., Canada amid lawsuits

Johnson & Johnson to End Talc-Based Baby Powder Sales in North America

The examples above are just a few of the headlines you can find around the internet involving the latest Talcum Powder lawsuit. What is it all about? Well, in October of 2019, Johnson & Johnson voluntarily recalled over 33,000 bottles of baby powder after the Food and Drug Administration ( FDA ) announced they discovered evidence of chrysotile asbestos in a bottle purchased from an online retailer.


What is Talcum Powder?

Talcum powder is made from talc; a mineral composed of hydrated magnesium silicate that is mined from rock deposits. It’s been said that ancient Assyrians, Egyptians, and Native Americans have all used talc for a variety of purposes. As a crushed powder, it can prevent caking, absorb moisture, create lubrication, keep skin dry and prevent rashes. Talcum powder is a common ingredient in cosmetics, makeup, deodorant, and paint. It can also be found in blushes, eye shadows, foundations, face powders and industrial products. Besides being made for babies, adult women have been using baby powder products containing talc on their perineum (the area between the anus and genitals) to prevent chafing between the legs.


Talcum Powder and the link to Ovarian Cancer

While talc is generally considered safe, some studies link the fine powder to certain health problems. Talc, in its natural form, can be contaminated by asbestos during the mining processes. Many have suggested that talcum powder (contaminated with asbestos) might cause ovarian cancer if the powder particles were to travel through the vagina, uterus, and fallopian tubes to the ovaries. According to the New York Times, asbestos was first linked to ovarian cancer back in 1958.

Although prospective cohort case studies have generally not found a significant increase in ovarian cancer risk, some have suggested possible increased risks in certain groups of women with healthy reproductive tracts. A big issue with studying Talc’s link to ovarian cancer is due to the cancer not being very common. Because of this, according to American Cancer Society, “ even the largest studies done so far might not have been big enough to detect a very small increase in risk, if it exists. Until more information is available, people concerned about using talcum powder may want to avoid or limit their use of consumer products that contain it.”

These safety concerns, along with customer complaints, have led to a rise in talcum powder lawsuits with manufacturers like Johnson & Johnson.


The Lawsuits

After the recall was initiated in 2019, Johnson & Johnson began an internal investigation. At the early stages of the investigation, they:

  • Could not determine if the alleged contamination caused a false positive.
  • Could not determine whether the sample was taken from a bottle with an intact seal or was prepared in a controlled environment.
  • Could not determine whether the tested product was authentic or a counterfeit.
johnson and johnson

According to marketline.com, “ [in March of 2020] the company faced almost 20,000 lawsuits related to talc body powders.” Ironically, in May of 2020, Johnson & Johnson decided to discontinue the sale of talc-based baby powder products in the U.S. and Canada. Apparently, this decision was due to “declining demand and litigation advertising.” They did not, however, cancel the sale of talc products internationally.

Although they have not admitted any fault, in June 2020, an appellate court in Missouri upheld more than $2 billion in damages against Johnson & Johnson, saying the company knew there was asbestos in its baby powder. Even the prominent civil rights attorney Ben Crump filed a lawsuit against the company due it’s effects on black women.

“We empathize with anyone suffering from cancer and understand that people are looking for answers. We believe those answers can be better understood through science — and decades of independent scientific testing by medical experts around the world has confirmed that our products are safe, do not contain asbestos, and do not cause cancer,” Johnson & Johnson told ABC News in a statement. “We firmly stand behind the safety of our product and the ways in which we communicate with our customers.”

In June of 2021, the Supreme Court declined to hear the company’s appeal of the Missouri verdict. After years of on-going litigation, there are still countless more lawsuits being filed against Johnson & Johnson. Like the CPAP lawsuit mentioned in a previous blog, cases like this would be concerned a product liability case. Those who feel they may have been a victim of talcum powder products should consult an attorney regarding their legal options. 

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