Talc Cancer Litigation Updates

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May 31, 2021
Edward Smith

Recent Developments on Talc Cancer Litigations

Talc is a naturally occurring clay mineral mined in many places worldwide and used for various purposes. Chemically, it is a hydrated magnesium silicate. The raw mineral is very soft and powders easily, which has led to its use as a solid lubricant (similar to powdered graphite). It also has astringent, drying, and deodorizing properties that have long made it popular in cosmetic uses. These cosmetic uses have resulted in talc cancer litigation in recent years, and this litigation continues to move forward on several fronts with some significant recent developments.

A Brief History of Talc, Baby Powder, Asbestos Contamination & Pneumonia

One of the first commercial products using talc for cosmetic purposes was Johnson & Johnson’s “baby powder” product, created and first marketed in the 1890s. Talc can either be used in pure, powdered form in these products — in which case it’s often referred to as “talcum powder” — or mixed with cornstarch in products more often called “baby powder.” Johnson & Johnson’s product was long marketed for adult and “nursery” uses. The astringent and drying properties helped ease symptoms of diaper rash for infants and similarly dry and deodorize otherwise sweaty or odor-producing parts of the adult body.

One long-recognized concern with the talc mineral was that the areas where the mineral was mined often also contained asbestos-bearing serpentine minerals. This could sometimes lead to cross-contamination of asbestos into powdered talc. However, once this danger was recognized, careful processing methods have kept finished talc powder essentially – but not completely — asbestos-free since the 1970s. However, it still threatens those who mine and process the raw minerals. It has also been long known that breathing talc powder could pose a pulmonary danger since it could produce aspirational pneumonia and long-term lung inflammatory problems. This is partly due to the extremely fine nature of talc powder and its ability to penetrate deep into the lungs when breathed in.

However, these challenges from using the product are not the only reason for recent talc cancer litigation. They are likely among why Johnson & Johnson stopped selling its talc-based baby powder in the United States and Canada in 2020.

What Issues Have Resulted in Talc Cancer Litigation?

Aside from the known dangers of asbestos contamination in talc powder, hints of possible links between powdered talc use and ovarian cancers have also been studied in recent decades. Results have varied from minimal correlation to as much as a 30% or higher increase in ovarian cancers among women who use talc powder products. Unfortunately, ovarian cancers are among the more deadly cancers in women. The World Health Organization’s cancer research agency listed talc powder in 2006 as a possible carcinogen in the female genital region. Because talcum powder is classified as a cosmetic by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, testing of the substance and labeling requirements have only been for the purity of the talc product. It is not tested in the U.S. for safety and efficacy as medicines are.

The increasing evidence of links to ovarian cancer has resulted in numerous lawsuits over the last decade and scientific studies and attention from investigative journalists. One investigation by Reuters, for example, found that Johnson & Johnson was long aware of asbestos contamination of its talcum powders before the 1970s and that even after manufacturing processes were improved during that time frame, smaller amounts of asbestos contamination continued into the early 2000s.

What Are Recent Developments in Talc Cancer Litigation?

A major class-action verdict in 2018 resulted in a $4.7 billion jury award against Johnson & Johnson on behalf of twenty-two women. While the verdict was under appeal, J&J decided to discontinue sales of its talcum powder products in the United States and Canada just last year. On June 1, 2021, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected Johnson & Johnson’s appeal without further comment.

Just recently, in April 2021, a unanimous ruling by Mississippi’s state Supreme Court decided that the state’s baby powder lawsuit against Johnson & Johnson could proceed, upholding an earlier ruling by a lower court. The Mississippi Attorney General filed this suit alleging that J&J had broken state consumer laws by failing to provide adequate warning labels that its talcum powder could result in ovarian cancer. J&J responded with an argument on the law — not the scientific evidence – contending that federal law on labeling requirements preempted the state’s requirements under the Mississippi Consumer Protection Act. (This has been a tactic used in other state cases, arguing that the FDA cosmetic labeling requirements should preempt local law.) The Mississippi Supreme Court ruled that this was not the case and that the Attorney General’s case against J&J could move forward. As a result of this and similar rulings in other state and federal courts, numerous cases are proceeding against Johnson & Johnson.

View this video from NBC’s Today Show about Johnson & Johnson’s decision to discontinue sales of talc products:

Sacramento Drug Products Liability Lawyer

Hello, my name is Ed Smith, and I’ve been a Sacramento Drug Products Liability Lawyer for nearly four decades. If you or a family member suffers from ovarian cancer, lung disease, or other illness resulting from talcum powder products, it is essential to seek advice from an attorney experienced in handling these product cases. To speak with one of our experienced attorneys for free and friendly advice, please call us at (916) 921-6400 or (800) 404-5400 or through our online form.

You can read more about some of our past verdicts and settlements and read our clients’ reviews at:

Photo Attribution: Image by psyco72 from Pixabay

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