Talcum powder, commonly known as baby powder, is a product that absorbs moisture, prevents rashes and skin irritations, and keeps skin dry. Safe enough to use on delicate newborn skin, talcum powder has been a household staple for decades and many women have been using it for years for feminine hygiene. However, studies have shown that talc can contain trace amounts of asbestos fibers and could be the cause of ovarian cancer and mesothelioma. This has led to multiple lawsuits against the health giant Johnson & Johnson, the makers of the most popular brand of baby powder.
Talc is a naturally occurring clay mineral that is typically mined, crushed, and combined with cornstarch to create baby powder. It’s used in numerous industries, including pharmaceutical, cosmetic, paper making, plastic, and ceramics. Talc can become contaminated with asbestos – a known carcinogen – when it is mined, as asbestos is often within close proximity to the mineral.
Asbestos is the only known cause of mesothelioma, a rare cancer that is founding the lining of the heart, abdomen, internal reproductive organs, and most commonly the lungs. Typically affecting men who worked in the steel or chemical industry, and in other industrial and construction trades, this aggressive cancer does not surface or show symptoms until decades after initial exposure. Lawsuits against asbestos manufacturers and companies surfaced in the 1970s when these companies were forced to admit that not only did they know about the dangers of asbestos, but that they actively withheld, downplayed, and ignored the issue.
The latest lawsuits against Johnson & Johnson claim that the health giant knew that their product contained trace amounts of asbestos fibers, but continued to market the product as perfectly safe. These claims, mostly from women, allege that after decades of using baby powder as part of their daily hygienic routine, they are now suffering from mesothelioma.
Talcum Powder and Ovarian Cancer
Since 2016, Johnson & Johnson has been involved in thousands of lawsuits resulting in millions of dollars in settlements after claims made against the company allege the company knew their product could cause ovarian cancer but chose to not inform consumers of the risk. The link between talcum powder and ovarian cancer dates back to the 1970s when a series of studies determined that women who frequently used talcum powder for feminine hygiene were 33 percent more likely to increase their risk of ovarian cancer. The powder could potentially move through the fallopian tubes and play a role in causing ovarian tumors. Some experts believe that Johnson & Johnson has known about the potential health risks since 1982
Under Criminal Investigation
Reports and internal documents spanning between the early 1970s to the 2000s show that testing done on Johnson & Johnson’s raw talc and finished powdered products showed trace amounts of asbestos fibers. However, Johnson & Johnson maintains their innocence and states that documents publicly available on their website prove that their product not only does not contain asbestos, but also doesn’t cause cancer. Yet a recent ruling in favor of a woman who developed mesothelioma using Johnson & Johnson baby powder for decades claim that the health giant altered its testing methods so that the trace amount of asbestos fibers initially discovered, were no longer evident and therefore misleading. Additional independent expert studies using different testing methods have found that the product does still contain asbestos fibers. The U.S Justice department is now conducting a criminal investigation against Johnson & Johnson to determine if the company knew that their product contained asbestos, but chose withhold and deny this information which subsequently put the public at risk for asbestos exposure, mesothelioma, and ovarian cancer.
Jef Feely, “J&J Denials of Asbestos in Baby Powder Spur Criminal Probe,” Bloomberg News (July 12, 2019). [Link]
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