Talcum powder was first made into a product in 1894 by Johnson & Johnson. Nappy rash in babies was a consistent problem, and this ‘baby powder’ was the solution. It has been a staple product for the company every since. But in August of 2017, the Johnson & Johnson staple cost them $417 million dollars. Talcum powder lawsuits by the thousands are cropping up nationwide, and this case is merely one of them.
Talc, the softest known mineral, has been connected to ovarian cancer. The claims are that J&J has known about the risks for decades, and did nothing to warn the consumer. In many ways, this sounds like an open-and-shut case. Negligence is a factor. A product is scientifically connected in some way to a life-threatening disease, with limited treatment options that do not guarantee survival. Of course, this is not as simple as it appears.
Additional facts behind the talcum powder lawsuits
A 1971 study that focused on ovarian cancers discovered the connection; particles of talc were found in tumors. It’s a study that helps cast Johnson & Johnson is a negative light. However, its defense clearly states that science vindicates the company and its product. Science shows the product is safe.
The $417 million dollar lawsuit focuses on the ovarian cancer killing the plaintiff. But a 1974 document shows that there have been concerns for a long time, and not merely with talc alone. This study reveals that Johnson & Johnson itself knew that asbestos was a potential contaminant within talc. It urged a mine to use citric acid to remove asbestos from the work site.
Both asbestos and talc are minerals often found close to each other. A quick search on the internet could inform someone that asbestos has a proven connection to mesothelioma. This aggressive and deadly form of cancer is difficult to treat, and is often a lethal diagnosis. However, it is clear in this and other documents that the company is aware of this danger, and is urging precautions.
The lawsuits themselves are focused on talcum powder as a cancerous agent. This information does present other questions. Could asbestos be the primary cause of these ovarian cancers? If so, what does this mean for Johnson & Johnson, as well as the users of its talcum powder?
A lack of compelling evidence
Juries clearly believe that there is enough evidence to show that the Johnson & Johnson talcum powder lawsuits are justified. The companies science-based defense seems to fly against the evidence. But that evidence by itself is powerful in its own way, and comes from multiple respected sources outside of the company.
Amanda Fader, a John Hopkins University gynecologic oncologist, describes the current body of evidence connecting talc and cancer as lacking. The American Cancer Society says studies have produced a mixed body of results. “For any individual woman,” it says, “if there is an increased risk, the overall increase is likely to be very small.”
The National Cancer Institute is more decisive in its opinion. It says that the evidence that exists does not support the association of ovarian cancer and talc exposure.
None of these authoritative sources is saying that there cannot be an association, but they do say the current evidence does not support one. Yet Johnson & Johnson was ordered to pay hundreds of millions for one case alone. There are thousands more lawsuits, and the company intends to contest any rulings that have fall against its favor. Whether or not the current science will let it reverse these rulings or fend off other lawsuits remains to be seen.