As of today, May 10, we have seen two large talcum powder verdicts here in St. Louis, against Johnson & Johnson. The community speculates that there may a thousand more to follow. The scientific link between talcum and ovarian cancer is still being disputed. The NIH and CDC have not fully reviewed talc. However, in February, a St. Louis jury awarded $72 million to relatives of a woman who died of ovarian cancer and last week, another award ($55 million) was ordered to a disease survivor.
In both cases, arguments were made that J&J not only knew about the risks of talc, and the connection to ovarian cancer, but that they actually targeted groups of people who are already at a higher risk for developing ovarian cancer – marketing to African Americans, Latinos and overweight women.
There are currently hundreds of lawsuits that involved J&J’s Baby Powder and Shower to Shower products – claiming that application to the genital area can cause ovarian cancer. Experts believe that there is a long lag time between exposure to the talc and developing ovarian cancer – thus the development of cancer (and legal action) could go on for decades. J&J stands behinds decades of studies that support the safety of talc, a naturally occurring mineral mined from the soil, which is commonly found in cosmetics and other personal products that are designed to absorb moisture.
After two big losses (which could be considered a “trend”), many believe that J&J will begin to consider settlements. A cancer expert at Washington University’s Siteman Center believes that case studies indicate that talc use by women increases the change of getting ovarian cancer by 20-40%. And ovarian cancer is considered “highly deadly” due to the fact that it is typically diagnosed too late.
This is certainly not the first time that consumer groups have attacked J&J over its products and components. Back in 2009, groups formed a Campaign for Safe Cosmetics and pushed J&J to eventually eliminate a controversial ingredient from its products. Only time will tell how these recent verdicts, and possibly others, will affect the future of J&J’s talcum products.