CNN reports that St. Louis jury recently awarded $72 million to the family of Jackie Fox, who died of ovarian cancer in 2015 at the age of 62. Fox allegedly used talcum powder manufactured and sold by Johnson & Johnson for 50 years. Fox’s deadly cancer was allegedly caused by exposure to carcinogens in the talcum powder. Apparently, the case is part of a wider lawsuit brought by dozens of women against Johnson & Johnson. Allegedly, Johnson & Johnson knew about the risks of using products containing talc, but failed to warn consumers about the risks.
Johnson & Johnson stands by its product and its conduct. A spokesperson recently stated: “The recent U.S. verdict goes against decades of sound science proving the safety of talc as a cosmetic ingredient in multiple products, and while we sympathize with the family of the plaintiff, we strongly disagree with the outcome.” For those who are unfamiliar with talc, it “is a naturally occurring mineral composed of magnesium, silicon, oxygen, and hydrogen. It’s used to absorb moisture in many kinds of cosmetic products, from baby powder to make up.”
Reportedly, after talc product manufacturers learned that the talc they were using contained asbestos in the 1970’s, “all manufacturers stopped using this kind of talc. Instead they swapped to corn starch, which is currently used by most US companies and has never been linked to cancer in any way – or asbestos-free talc.” Apparently, talc is generally believed to be safe, but some studies have “suggested it could cause ovarian cancer if used on the female genital area.” Specifically, some scientists “have suggested that talc particles could travel to the ovaries, irritate them and cause inflammation – potentially increasing the risk of certain cancers.” The criticism of these reports, though, is that they are flawed because they “often relied on people who previously used talc that could have contained asbestos.”
According to the American Cancer Society, the International Agency for Research on Cancer has classified inhaled (asbestos-free) talc as not carcinogenic, but “based on limited evidence from human studies of a link to ovarian cancer, IARC classifies the perineal (genital) use of talc-based body powder as ‘possibly carcinogenic to humans.'”
So, it appears that the link between talc exposure and cancer is suspect at this point, but the large verdict will likely spawn many more lawsuits. Toxic tort lawyers should familiarize themselves with the issues surrounding talc exposure cases, because the odds are pretty good that the talc lawsuits may be coming to a courtroom near you.