Talcum powder lawsuits are mass tort claims by women who have developed lung, endometrial, or ovarian cancer after regularly using talcum powder, also known as baby powder. These lawsuits claim that Johnson & Johnson, the maker of the baby powder they used, knew of the risks of developing cancer, but failed to warn anyone.
Over 10,000 of these lawsuits have been consolidated into multidistrict litigation, and seek compensation for:
- Medical expenses,
- Lost wages and earnings,
- An inability to earn a living in the future,
- Pain and suffering, and
- Loss of the family’s consortium.
On May 19, 2020, Johnson & Johnson discontinued selling talc-based powders.
- 1. What is talcum powder?
- 2. The connection between talcum and asbestos
- 3. Cancer risks from talcum powder
- 4. Lawsuits over cancer risks from talcum powder
- 5. Compensation for victims of talcum powder
- 6. What you can do if you have gotten cancer from talcum powder
1. What is talcum powder?
Talcum powder, often sold as baby powder, is a super-fine and soft powder made of the mineral talcum. Because it is so soft and because it absorbs moisture so well, talcum powder is a base ingredient in numerous cosmetic products. On its own, talcum powder can also be used for a variety of cosmetic purposes, like:
- As a deodorant,
- Soothing skin,
- Rash prevention, particularly for babies suffering from diaper rash,
- Reducing friction between skin and clothing, and
- Eliminating moisture.
The pharmaceutical company Johnson & Johnson has dominated the market with its baby powder products. However, in addition to Johnson & Johnson, there are a couple of other talcum powder makers, including Sutherland, and Taylor of Old Bond Street.
2. The connection between talcum and asbestos
The mineral talcum is usually found in the same geologic deposits as the mineral asbestos. Asbestos has been linked to the rare cancer mesothelioma. Talcum and asbestos share similarities that make the emergence of one mineral a prime location for the emergence of the other. As a result, many of the mines that extract talcum from the ground also encounter significant deposits of asbestos ore, as well.
It should come as no surprise, then, that talcum is frequently contaminated with asbestos when it is mined, even when care is taken to keep them separate.
Even though the talcum powder that eventually gets sold as baby powder gets ground up and refined after extraction, removing all of the asbestos contamination is nearly impossible.1
3. Cancer risks from talcum powder
Talcum and talcum powder that has been contaminated with asbestos could cause the following types of cancer:
- Lung cancer,2
- Endometrial, or uterine, cancer,3 and
- Ovarian cancer.4
Talcum powder poses a particular risk for ovarian cancer when it is regularly used by women to sooth the skin in their genital area or for feminine hygiene.
Applying talcum powder to this area, especially the perineal area, can reduce odors and moisture. It can also reduce friction with undergarments and prevent a painful rash. In the understanding that baby powder is harmless, thousands of women have used talcum powder on their perineal area or for feminine hygiene on a regular basis for years.
Doing so, however, may have put thousands of women at risk of developing ovarian cancer. When talcum powder is contaminated with asbestos and gets into a woman’s body, it can drastically increase the chance that they develop cancer.
4. Lawsuits over cancer risks from talcum powder
News that women who used perineal talcum powder faced a heightened risk of developing ovarian cancer created a surge in lawsuits against Johnson & Johnson. All of these claims argued that Johnson & Johnson knew of the risks associated with its baby powder, but failed to warn consumers of the dangers they were facing.
The first lawsuit came in 1997. However, it was successfully defended by the pharmaceutical giant when they were able to avoid disclosing talcum test results and other internal documents.5
It was not until recently that lawsuits against Johnson & Johnson have gotten deep enough into the discovery stage to uncover damning internal memos that suggest the company knew of the dangers, but hid them for years.
These documents, as reported in a special report by Reuters,6 revealed numerous attempts to cover up the problem, including:
- An extensive, but ultimately futile, lobbying campaign in the 1970s with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to allow cosmetic talcum powder products to contain up to 1% asbestos,
- Another lobbying attempt with the FDA in 1976 to allow cosmetic companies to regulate themselves. This was supported by the claim that no asbestos was detected in talcum samples from December 1972 through October 1973, but did not divulge the fact that tests in 1974 and 1975 had found asbestos in talcum,
- Self-regulation guidelines in the cosmetic industry that allowed up to 0.5% asbestos contamination in talcum powder, using an X-ray scanning process that was prone to error and underreporting,
- The destruction of records from a mine that was the primary source of talcum used in Johnson & Johnson’s baby powder from 1966 to 1990 when the mine was sold, and
- The refusal to acquire the patents necessary to separate talcum from tremolite, a certain type of asbestos, because the publicity of acquiring the patents would make it seem as if asbestos was a problem in Johnson & Johnson’s baby powder.
The discovery of these damning details led to significant verdicts against Johnson & Johnson, including:
- A $72 million verdict, including $62 million in punitive damages, for the family of a woman who died from ovarian cancer after using baby powder for more than 35 years.7 The verdict was subsequently overturned, though on purely jurisdictional grounds,8
- A $417 million verdict, including $347 million in punitive damages, for a woman who was suffering from ovarian cancer after applying Johnson & Johnson’s baby powder to her perineal area for more than 60 years.9 That verdict was also overturned, this time on procedural issues,10 and
- A $4.7 billion verdict, including $4.14 billion in punitive damages, for 22 ovarian cancer victims and their families.11
Many of these claims have been pursued individually or in small groups. Several of the lawsuits that have involved individual victims have run into jurisdictional defenses as Johnson & Johnson has successfully appealed verdicts with the claim that the court that awarded them should not have heard the case, at all.
However, there is also a huge multidistrict litigation (MDL) concerning Johnson & Johnson’s talcum and baby powder in the U.S. District Court in New Jersey.12 The claims in this MDL have been consolidated in one court for pretrial procedures, like the gathering of evidence and preliminary motions.
As of April 15, 2019, this MDL consisted of 11,722 claims for compensation.13
5. Compensation for victims of talcum powder
Victims of talcum powder or baby powder stand to recover compensatory damages and punitive damages in a successful lawsuit against Johnson & Johnson. These are meant to cover the victim’s losses and setbacks, including:
- Medical expenses,
- Lost wages,
- Reduced earning capacity,
- Pain and suffering, and
- Their family’s loss of consortium.
When the victim has died from their condition, their family can pursue a wrongful death claim on their behalf. The compensation available in a wrongful death lawsuit is slightly different, as it focuses on the impact of the death on the victim’s family, rather than compensating the victim.
Additionally, numerous verdicts against Johnson & Johnson have awarded punitive damages against the company for its attempts to cover up the risks of their baby powder. This portion of the verdict has frequently been well beyond the amount of compensation that has been awarded to a victim or their family, and is meant to punish Johnson & Johnson for its conduct.
6. What you can do if you have gotten cancer from talcum powder
If you have used Johnson & Johnson’s talcum or baby powder for feminine hygiene and have since developed symptoms that sound like ovarian cancer, you should talk to your doctor. There are tests that can be done to find out for certain if you have gotten cancer. If the tests come back positive, you can promptly receive the medical care that you need to fight the disease.
If you have been diagnosed with cancer and you suspect your baby powder use contributed to it, you should consider talking to a lawyer. Joining the multidistrict litigation or filing your own lawsuit can be the best way to ensure you receive the compensation you need for a serious medical condition you could not have avoided. It can also hold Johnson & Johnson accountable for their reckless conduct that hurt you and others like you. You can call the products liability and defective drug lawyers at the Shouse Law Office.
If your loved one is the one who is suffering or who has died, you can talk to a lawyer about your legal options, including filing a wrongful death claim.
Doing so soon after discovering the cancer, however, is essential. Many states require lawsuits to be filed within two years of the injury.
- Lisa Girion, “Special Report: J&J Knew for Decades that Asbestos Lurked in Its Baby Powder,” Reuters (December 14, 2018); see Johnson & Johnson Stops Selling Talc-Based Baby Powder In U.S. And Canada, NPR (May 19, 2020).
- Honda Y, Beall C, Delzell E, Oestenstad K, Brill I, Matthews R, “Mortality Among Workers at a Talc Mining and Milling Facility,” Annals of Occupational Hygiene 46(7):575-85 (October 2002).
- Crawford L, Reeves KW, Luisi N, Balasubramanian R, Sturgeon SR, “Perineal Powder Use and Risk of Endometrial Cancer in Postmenopausal Women,” Cancer Causes Control 23(10):1673-80 (October 2012).
- See, e.g., Mills PK, Riordan DG, Cress RD, Young HA, “Perineal Talc Exposure and Epithelial Ovarian Cancer Risk in the Central Valley of California,” International Journal of Cancer 112(3):458-64 (November 10, 2004); Whysner J, Mohan M, “Perineal Application of Talc and Cornstarch Powders: Evaluation of Ovarian Cancer Risk,” American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology 182(3):720-4 (March 2000).
- See note 1.
- See note 1.
- Hogans v. Johnson & Johnson, No. 1422-CC09012 (Mo. Cir. Ct.).
- See Nate Raymond, “Johnson & Johnson Wins Reversal of $72 Million Verdict Over Talc Cancer Risks,” Reuters (October 17, 2017).
- See “Woman Gets $417 Million Verdict From Johnson & Johnson in Baby Powder Cancer Suit,” NBC News (August 22, 2017).
- See Tina Bellon, Nate Raymond, “California Judge Tosses $417 Million Talc Cancer Verdict Against Johnson & Johnson,” Reuters (October 20, 2017).
- See Tiffany Hsu, “Johnson & Johnson Told to Pay $4.7 Billion in Baby Powder Lawsuit,” The New York Times (July 12, 2018); Roni Caryn Rabin, “Women With Cancer Awarded Billions in Baby Powder Suit“, The New York Times (June , 2020)
- MDL 2738, In re: Johnson & Johnson Talcum Powder Litigation.
- MDL Statistics Report – Distribution of Pending MDL Dockets by District (April 15, 2019).