Companies that manufacture and sell baby powder, including Johnson & Johnson, have been beset by lawsuits claiming that the product has caused dozens of people to develop cancer. In February 2020, Johnson & Johnson was ordered by a jury to pay $750 million to four plaintiffs that jury members determined had gotten cancer from using Johnson & Johnson’s baby powder.
While a judge later reduced the amount to $186 million, the case was just the latest legal signal that baby powder and related products may not be as harmless as they seem at first. What do people need to know about this product and the ingredient (or ingredients) in question? What exactly is it about baby powder that causes cancer?
Many products marketed as baby powder (though, importantly, not all of them) are made from talc, which is a naturally occurring mineral that’s one of the softest substances in the world. Talc is mined from the earth, ground into a fine powder and used to absorb moisture on the body. For this reason, it’s often used by parents and caregivers to reduce friction and prevent diaper rash in babies, hence the term baby powder.
Talcum powder is also used in cosmetic products marketed to adults, including facial powders and body powders. While Johnson & Johnson and other companies that make baby powder and talcum powder have maintained that their products are safe, it is possible for natural talc to be contaminated by asbestos, another naturally occurring mineral that often is found nearby raw talc within the earth.
In addition to asbestos-contaminated talc, studies and lawsuits have had mixed results in showing that cancer can be caused by talcum powder or baby powder that has not been found to be contaminated with asbestos.
According to market data, 119.3 million Americans used body powder or baby powder in 2019, with Johnson & Johnson accounting for nearly half of those customers (Statista). Johnson & Johnson’s Baby Powder is made with talc, but not all body powders or baby powders are manufactured using talc; baby powder also can be made with cornstarch, oat flour or baking soda.
Talcum Powder & Asbestos
In late 2019, Johnson & Johnson issued a recall of a batch of its baby powder product after asbestos was detected in some of the product. Natural talc consists mostly of magnesium, oxygen and silicon, but deposits of the mineral often appear in the ground near deposits of asbestos.
This natural proximity can easily lead to talc being mined with bits of asbestos, which then make their way into the products manufactured with talc. A 2020 release from the Food and Drug Administration, which has been in the midst of a study of talc-containing products, including powders, indicated that of the 43 blind samples it tested, nine were found to have asbestos. The FDA warned consumers against products from Claire’s stores and Beauty Plus, and the tests are ongoing.
Asbestos has been shown to cause cancer even in tiny amounts, and there are few legal uses for the substance today.
Talcum Powder & Cancer
Some plaintiffs who have pursued cancer cases against Johnson & Johnson have alleged that companies were aware their products contained asbestos, a known carcinogen, but did nothing to protect consumers.
An analysis of publicly available court documents by the news service Reuters indicates there may be some truth to claims that Johnson & Johnson was aware for decades that some of its talc was tainted with asbestos. The agency found that the earliest mentions of asbestos-tainted talc were made by a lab in 1957 (Reuters).
In other cases, plaintiffs have alleged that non-tainted talc can lead to cancer. In some medical studies, an elevated risk of ovarian cancer has been detected after the use of talcum powder applied to the genitals, including on sanitary napkins or condoms (American Cancer Society).
Asbestos & Cancer
While there may be a scientific link between non-tainted talc products and cancer, the connection between asbestos and cancer is far more widely established. By the middle part of the 20th century, scientific evidence had fairly conclusively indicated that asbestos caused multiple types of cancers and by the late 1970s, use of the substance was reduced and mostly halted, though it remains legal for some uses today.
Asbestos has been connected to several types of cancer, including:
The connection between asbestos and mesothelioma is particularly strong, and asbestos is estimated to cause about 70% of all mesothelioma cases. Mesothelioma is a rare but highly deadly cancer, with many patients receiving a prognosis of just about a year upon mesothelioma diagnosis.
Several factors can impact a person’s risk of developing cancer after exposure to asbestos, or other harmful substances. These include:
- Duration of exposure
- Amount of material in exposure
- Chemical makeup of substance
- Source of exposure
- Individual genetics and lifestyle
Individuals who were exposed to asbestos, whether through their jobs or other means, should watch for a series of symptoms, including:
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain
- Weight loss
- Persistent, worsening cough
Baby Powder Cancer Lawsuits
For the past several years, Johnson & Johnson and other baby powder companies have been the targets of lawsuits alleging that their products cause cancer. Jury verdicts have included multimillion-dollar awards, and companies have sometimes opted to settle cases.
In January 2020, Johnson & Johnson settled a California woman’s case in the middle of her trial for an undisclosed sum, while thousands of cases are still pending against the company. The woman at the heart of that case was diagnosed with mesothelioma in August 2018, and her doctors have said she likely doesn’t have long to live despite undergoing treatment for the cancer (Los Angeles Times).
Get Talcum Powder Legal Help
Whether they pursue a lawsuit or seek compensation in other ways, victims of asbestos exposure have many options. About $30 billion in compensation is available from the Asbestos Trust Funds, which means victims and their families may be able to receive compensation without filing a lawsuit, though for those harmed by baby powder and other talc-based products, a lawsuit may be the best recourse. Complete the form or call us toll-free (800) 352-0871 to find out how to receive compensation.