Talcum powder is most commonly used as a baby product to help prevent diaper rash and glides over the skin to eliminate friction and keep the skin cool. Yet, when Johnson & Johnson learned that many women were using the product as a body powder, the company began marketing to woman with other talc-based powders, including Shower-to-Shower.
Since 1982, approximately 22 studies have found evidence of a link between talcum powder and ovarian cancer; some evidence even emerged dating back to 1971. The latest study, from 2013, was published in the medical journal Cancer Prevention Research. It stated that women who used talcum body powder as a feminine hygiene product may face a 20% to 30% greater risk of ovarian cancer compared to those who do not apply talc. Yet, Johnson & Johnson and similar companies argued against the findings and managed to keep their dangerous products on store shelves without restriction or warnings of any kind. Even after multiple petitions were made to the FDA to regulate talc, including one in 2008, led by the Cancer Prevention Coalition. All requests were denied or unacknowledged.
Public awareness became more widespread with the first baby powder cancer lawsuit in October 2013. The case involved a 56 year old woman who was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2006 after using Shower-to-Shower talc powder. The complaint alleged that the Johnson & Johnson knew, or should have known, of the link between ovarian cancer and talcum powder, but failed to provide any warnings to consumers or the medical community. The only warnings provided with the talcum powder products indicate that users should avoid contact with the eyes and keep the powder away from the faces of children to avoid inhalation. Three doctors who examined her cancer tissue found talc in the tissue using an electron microscope, and determined that her cancer was caused by the body powder. One expert witness who had studied the link between talcum and ovarian cancer testified that talc and baby powders could be a contributing factor in 10,000 cases of ovarian cancer each year. A South Dakota jury voted in favor of the plaintiff. In light of this court decision, neither the industry nor the FDA issued warnings; the products remained on store shelves.
On the heels of the successful lawsuit is a wrongful death case in Missouri, the first to allege conspiracy as well. According to the suit, the deceased woman used talcum powder products such as Shower-to-Shower and Johnson’s Baby Powder for feminine hygiene beginning in 1972, until her death in January of 2011, after a three-year battle with ovarian cancer. Her husband filed the lawsuit against Johnson & Johnson, Imerys Talc America and other defendants, alleging concert of action and civil conspiracy.
Under the concert of action charge, the plaintiff alleged that the pharmaceutical giant launched a task force with the express purpose of “pooling financial resources in an effort to collectively defend talc use at all costs – defend against claims that it was dangerous and to prevent regulation of any type over this industry.” The conspiracy claim alleged the defendants purposefully engaged in concealing cancer risk information from talcum powder users, which is potentially illegal activity. In a recent Federal Court ruling, U.S. District Judge Ronnie L. White dismissed the concert of action claim, but ruled that the conspiracy claims are valid. A jury trial is scheduled to begin on March 7, 2016.
The American Cancer Society estimates that in 2014, about 21,980 new cases of ovarian cancer will be diagnosed and 14,270 women will die of ovarian cancer in the United States alone. The exact number of these cases that are linked to talcum baby powder use is unknown, but studies found that out of approximately 8,500 women diagnosed with ovarian cancer, nearly a quarter used baby powder after bathing or showering.
While these lawsuits are shining a light on the industry’s 40 year old secret, the products remain on store shelves and still without warnings. Let’s hope this latest development will finally give rise to much greater scrutiny of the corporate giant’s concern for profits more than safety of consumers. It is time Johnson & Johnson stops burying their little profit secrets” and gliding over safety.
Mark Bello is the CEO and General Counsel of Lawsuit Financial Corporation, a pro-justice lawsuit funding company.
Attorney, certified civil mediator, and award-winning author of the Zachary Blake Betrayal Series—Mark Bello is also the CEO of Lawsuit Financial and the country’s leading expert in providing non-recourse lawsuit funding to plaintiffs involved in pending litigation. He is also a member of the State Bar of Michigan, a sustaining member of the Michigan Association for Justice, and a member of the American Association for Justice.