It was year 2006 when we heard about the first talcum powder lawsuit which involved a resident from Siox Falls, South Dakota. According to Fairwarning which is a health safety news authority, this widely reported case was preceded by 700 claims from ovarian cancer victims. The said talcum powder lawsuit bedlam was directed to Johnson and Johnson and their talc supplier Imerys. J&J have been the main provider of talcum powder for over a century until now.
Overview: Talcum powder
Most of us have used talcum powder at least once in our lives. It is usually used on babies’ bottoms, by women of all ages, and by the older population in the aim of keeping skin smooth, dry, sweet smelling and to avoid rashes.
Talc’s link to ovarian cancer
What could be dangerous about talcum powder? Over the past years, studies have suggested a surprising link between talcum powder and ovarian cancer. In 1971, The Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology of the British Commonwealth found out “deeply embedded” particles of talc from 10 out of 13 ovarian tumors which were analyzed in the study. The study “Ovarian cancer and talc” by the journal Cancer in 1982 have shown results that reflect 35% higher risk of ovarian cancer for women who used talc for feminine hygiene compared to women who don’t. There are about 20 studies that have found increased rates of ovarian cancer risk for women using talc for hygiene purposes.
More studies and research were done between now and then; some have shown evidence that link talcum powder to ovarian cancer and some also concluded otherwise. There is no definite conclusion reached up to now.
Johnson and Johnson
At $74.8 billion annual sales last year, Johnson and Johnson sure is one of the market leaders when it comes to pharmaceuticals, health aids and medical devices. The company has a massive workforce of 130,000 with 275 operating companies over 60 countries all over the world. Brothers Robert Wood, James Wood and Edward Mead Johnson founded J&J in 1880s selling first aid kits, sanitary napkins, dental floss and baby powder as some of their initial products.
Carebliss.com ranked J&J on top of their 50 Happiest Companies in America last December. Fortune Magazine also ranked J&J first in the most admired company list when it comes to pharmaceutical industry. Aside from several recognitions, J&J is also acclaimed for its involvement with clinical research vowing to test an Ebola vaccine last year. J&J is also involved in few other charitable endeavors.
Despite all the positive impressions, J&J faces several legal battles. In 2013, J&J and 2 other subsidiaries faced criminal and civil charges due to illegal promotion of Risperdal and other anti-psychotic drugs for unapproved uses. J&J paid a $2.2 billion fine to the U.S and 45 states as settlement but they haven’t admitted any wrongdoing. J&J also had several personal injury claims reaching 56,300 by the end of 2014 in US alone which involves hip implants, pelvic mesh devices and Risperdal all made by its subsidiary, Ethicon Inc.
As of today, still, most of us trust the J&J brand and the prevalence of the talcum powder lawsuit is truly worrying.
The case: Talcum powder lawsuit
“A sprinkle a day keeps odor away” that’s according to J&J’s Shower to Shower Morning Fresh powder advertisements. Yes, aside from all other uses of talc powder, there are millions of women dusting their underwear or the private area. This was particularly common in the earlier years, more like a daily routine for most.
Deane Berg is one of the many users of Johnson’s powder products. She was diagnosed in 2006 with stage III ovarian cancer with a poor prognosis. She had her ovaries removed and had rounds of agonizing chemotherapy.
The 49 year old physician’s assistant was clueless about ovarian cancer and was asking the same question of “why me” during the early days of her diagnosis. She began reading and studying risk factors and found out that regular use of talcum powder for feminine hygiene is one of them. Deane was shocked saying “Why aren’t they warning women about it?.”
As previously presented, there are several studies which have show evidence of the link between ovarian cancer and talcum powder. How come this information is mostly only written in journals, publications and few websites out of the public knowledge?
Deane filed a lawsuit against J&J in Sioux Falls federal court which reached a verdict in October 2013. J&J was found guilty of negligence for failing to warn the risk of ovarian cancer with the use of their talcum powder products. Unfortunately, Deane was awarded zero damages however, because of her case, several others followed.
Aside from J&J, several other claimants have also included Imerys Talc America Inc. which is a supplier of talc to J&J as well as other talc powder marketers including Personal Care Products Council which is a cosmetic maker trade group. Around 700 ovarian cancer victims have bought claims against J&J holding them responsible for bringing the disease because of talc powder. Most of the lawsuits were filed in New Jersey where J&J’s headquarters is located and some were in state in St. Louis. First trials are said to begin early 2016.
Reactions on the talcum powder lawsuit
This lawsuit has truly shaken the public over the years. It doesn’t only concern ovarian cancer victims but ultimately every woman who have used or is currently using talcum powder. Who knows what else it may cause especially to the vulnerable users namely babies, kids and the elderly?
One of the lawyers involved in most of the cases Ted Meadows said that they are dealing with a major company that failed to inform their customers. Meadows also mentioned that he believes J&J have taken steps to hide the risks of talc from the public.
Deborah Giannecchi, 62, was also diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2012. Like Deane, she is a J&J talc powder user. She is very upset saying it’s an ugly disease and added “I sure would have appreciated being given the chance to say this is worth the risk or it isn’t.”
And J&J? Well, they refused to comment on the issues and did not accepted any interview invitations either. They released a statement: “We have no higher responsibility than the health and safety of consumers who rely on our products. It is important for consumers to know that the safety of cosmetic talc is supported by decades of scientific evidence and independent peer-reviewed studies.” J&J and all other involved companies also said that the link between talc and ovarian cancer is weak, the studies were biased and that warnings were unnecessary.
Is is still safe to use talcum powder?
Cancer Research UK states that the risk of ovarian cancer doesn’t increase when women use more talc. It emphasizes that stronger studies don’t find a link between talc and any type of cancer. The National Toxicology Program which is part of the US Department of Health and Human Services have also ruled in 2005 that existing data at the time were not enough to list talc as cancer-causing agent. As for the International Agency for Research on Cancer which is part of World Health Organization, they have classified talc as 2B agent which is “possibly carcinogenic to human beings,”as based on the “remarkably consistent” results of epidemiological studies. Lastly, an expert panel of the Cosmetic Ingredient Review declared talc “safe in the present practices of use and concentration.”
J&J vows that the talc in their products is asbestos free and is tested regularly since the 1970s and continues to battle the lawsuits lined up against them.
There is definitely widespread doubt on talcum powder use after all this talcum powder lawsuit streak and studies that have shown significant results. As someone who have studied and worked in the healthcare industry, I do get mixed recommendations from people. At university, there are professors who would say its safe, some say otherwise and in the end they would just suggest that the use of talc is up to our personal choices. Most of the institutions I have worked for discourages talcum powder use but do not ban it entirely. It is truly confusing but as we always know, prevention is better than cure. There are alternatives to talcum powder nowadays such as cornstarch made powders.