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Talcum Powder

talcum powderThere’s a certain irony that a product that has always conjured up visions of babies, femininity, purity, and softness may actually be a deadly carcinogen.  Talcum powder products are under heavy fire for allegedly being the causal factor in numerous cases of ovarian cancer.

Talcum product manufacturers Johnson & Johnson are the defendants in over 700 cases alleging that they have been negligent by failing to warn women of the risk of ovarian cancer if they used talc products for feminine hygiene. The Johnson & Johnson suits also name Imerys Talc America, Inc. as a defendant for supplying the talc to Johnson & Johnson.

Talc a possible carcinogen

Millions of women have stepped out of the shower or bath each morning for years and faithfully dusted their genital area with the “baby soft” powder unaware that they were possibly at risk for cancer. The lawsuits allege that there was no manufacturer’s warning that the powder could migrate through the vagina to the uterus, the fallopian tubes, and the ovaries and once there, cause cancerous growths.  In their defense, the manufacturers say that there is no proof that talc particles can travel that route and cause growths, thus eliminating any need for a warning.

However, as far back as 1971, British researchers analyzed thirteen ovarian tumors and found talc particles deeply embedded in ten of them.

Ovarian cancer and talc by the numbers

About 20,000 women are diagnosed each year with ovarian cancer. Of those, 14,000 die of the disease. In 1982, a statistical link between talcum powder use on genitals and ovarian cancer was first described in the journal Cancer. Since then, approximately 20 studies have found an increased risk of ovarian cancer among women who use talcum powder on their genital area. Dr. Daniel Cramer, a gynecologist and Harvard Medical School professor who co-authored one of the studies, said that talcum powder use may cause 10% of ovarian cancer cases in the US, or about 2,000 cases per year.

The medical journal Cancer Prevention Research published a study in June 2013 indicating that women who used talcum powder in the genital area may face a 20% to 30% higher risk of ovarian cancer than non-users. Since ovarian cancer strikes one out of every 70 women, this study establishes a rate of one out of 50 talcum powder users will contract the disease.

Talcum powder and ovarian cancer in the courts reports that there are about 700 cases pending in the courts against Johnson & Johnson alleging that feminine hygiene use of its powders cause ovarian cancer. The suits further argue that women may have been able to avoid the cancer if the manufacturer had provided warnings to the public and the medical community that there was a risk in using the talc products.

A South Dakota jury was convinced by evidence presented by plaintiffs in a 2013 trial that there is a link between Johnson & Johnson’s Shower to Shower powder and ovarian cancer.

In 2014, a class action suit was filed in a California court hoping to compel Johnson & Johnson to properly warn consumers about the cancer risks of its talc powder products. The class action alleges that Johnson & Johnson has been aware o f the risks for decades but has steadfastly refused to warn consumers of the danger of its use in feminine hygiene.

The talcum powder lawsuits against Johnson & Johnson go on to allege that they have not replaced talc, one of the world’s softest minerals and the main ingredient in talcum powder, with corn starch which has skin softening qualities without the health risks of talc.

Asbestos–contaminated talc linked to mesothelioma

The use of talcum powder has also been targeted in a number of lawsuits as the cause of mesothelioma, a rare and often fatal form of cancer caused by the inhalation of microscopic asbestos fibers. The suits allege that the talc used in talcum powder has been harvested from mines that are contaminated with asbestos and that the daily use of the powder causes a risk of inhalation of asbestos fibers.

Although Johnson & Johnson states unequivocally that its talcum powder is asbestos free,  a team of researchers at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York published a study in 1976 on twenty different talc products , including baby and facial powders , and found two types of asbestos in half of them.

Talcum powder litigation

In late April 2015, Colgate Palmolive, the manufacturer of Cashmere Bouquet powder, was ordered to pay $12.4 million in damages to a woman who suffers from mesothelioma after a jury found that the main cause of her disease was fifteen years of exposure to and inhalation of asbestos fibers from an asbestos-tainted talcum powder. This was the first case in which allegations were upheld that the talc in Cashmere Bouquet, a product on the market from the late 1800’s to 1995, came from asbestos-contaminated mines. Also facing possible punitive damages, Colgate settled the case for a confidential sum, and continues to stand behind the safety of its products.

In the only other talc-asbestos case to go to trial so far, a jury awarded $1.6 million to a mesothelioma victim who alleged that his cancer came from asbestos particles that his father tracked home from a job where several cosmetic talc powders were produced. There are several other talc-asbestos cases pending at this time.

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  2., Jury Awards Woman $13 Million For Asbestos Exposure