Talcum powder is a common ingredient in many cosmetic and hygiene products, most famously as the main ingredient in Johnson & Johnson’s Baby Powder. It makes products silky, smooth, and absorbent, and is used to control odor and reduce moisture. Talcum powder comes from a natural mineral called talc, which is mined, purified and then crushed into the powder that is familiar to many users.
One of the most common uses of Baby Powder and other similar talcum powder products for decades has been feminine hygiene. Women have long used these products to deodorize, reduce moisture, and feel clean and cool. Unfortunately, this use has now been linked with thousands of cases of ovarian cancer. Because of this many women, and in some cases the families of women who died, are filing ovarian cancer lawsuits, especially against Johnson & Johnson.
Talc and Talcum Powder
Johnson & Johnson’s Baby Powder, Shower to Shower, and similar products are among the most recognized of talcum powder products, but this ingredient is found in many different types of cosmetic and hygiene products. It is made from talc, a clay mineral made mostly of magnesium silicate. To make talcum powder, talc is mined and then ground into a fine powder.
Since the 1970s, talc has also been purified before being made into talcum powder. This is because it was discovered that talc and talcum powder could contain traces of asbestos. Asbestos is another type of silicate mineral, but one that has been strongly linked to certain types of cancers. Asbestos has long been used for many purposes, for example in construction because it absorbs sound well and is fire resistant. Since 1976 all talc used in food or cosmetic products has been processed to be asbestos-free.
Talcum Powder Uses
Talc is crushed into a powder and used in a lot of cosmetic and hygiene products because of its unique and desirable properties. It reduces friction and absorbs moisture. The ability to absorb moisture, as well as the added fragrances, makes it useful for deodorizing. Body powders, foot powders, deodorant powders, and baby powders are all talc-containing products because of these properties.
Talcum powder as baby powder was introduced to help soothe a baby’s delicate skin, absorb moisture, and keep the baby clean and dry. Makeup may also contain talcum powder to make it silkier and more absorbent. Incontinence and sanitary pads may also contain talcum powder for absorption and odor control.
One common use of talcum powder products over the years is for feminine hygiene. Many women have used these products, like Baby Powder or Shower to Shower from Johnson & Johnson, to control odor and moisture, and to feel more comfortable and cool. To get these benefits, women using talcum powder this way apply it directly to the genital area. It is this use that has led to the ovarian cancer lawsuits over talcum powder.
Talcum Powder and Ovarian Cancer
In the early 1970s doctors and some patients first made a connection between talcum powder use for feminine hygiene and ovarian cancer. One of the first studies to investigate this link found that samples from ovarian tumors had talcum powder deeply embedded in them. In 1982 a study found that compared to women without ovarian cancer, those with this terrible condition were more likely to have used talcum powder products for feminine hygiene.
It was at this time that asbestos was suggested to possibly be the culprit in causing these cancers. The type of ovarian cancer the women developed was very similar to mesothelioma, one of the types of cancers known to be caused by exposure to asbestos. Although talcum powder was supposed to be free of asbestos since 1976, some questioned whether there may still be trace amounts.
Later studies have also found some connections and slightly increased risks of ovarian cancer in women using talcum powder products. Other later studies, though, were more inconclusive, which has given Johnson & Johnson a reason to fight lawsuits against it. Women who have experienced ovarian cancer continue to battle the company in the courtroom, and many have won.
Talcum Powder Class Action Lawsuits
More than one woman has brought a class action lawsuit against Johnson & Johnson because of the risk of ovarian cancer. In one of these cases, the plaintiff, Mona Estrada, used Baby Powder for 30 years, and although she did not develop cancer, cites the thousands of women who did. She started the case, she said, on behalf of those women.
Estrada and her lawyers cited a number of studies and claimed that Johnson & Johnson was negligent in cases of ovarian cancer, violated consumer legal remedies, breached implied warranties, and violated certain laws regarding business practices.
A similar class action suit was brought by Barbara Mihalich of Indiana, who also did not develop ovarian cancer. She also brought legal action against Johnson & Johnson in the name of women who suffered from their talcum powder products. She has accused the company of violating Indiana’s Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practice Act.
Individual Talcum Powder and Ovarian Cancer Lawsuits
In addition to these women tackling the job of getting justice for all other women are many individuals who have filed lawsuits against Johnson & Johnson. One of these was Diane Berg of South Dakota who used the company’s talcum powders for over 30 years for feminine hygiene. By 2006 she had been diagnosed with ovarian cancer. She has accused the company of failing to warn her and other women of the risks of developing cancer.
Berg was one of the first women to sue Johnson & Johnson over talcum powder and cancer, and although she won her case, the jury did not award her any monetary damages. Those who came after her have won damages and many more cases are ongoing.
In St. Louis trials, judges awarded two plaintiffs $127 million in Johnson & Johnson ovarian cancer lawsuits. These cases proved that the company was negligent, that it failed to warn women of risks, and that it conspired to hide information about talcum powder. In these cases the plaintiffs were able to prove that Johnson & Johnson knowingly concealed safety information about talcum powder.
These successes against a huge company should be encouraging for other women and their families who suffered because of the use of Baby Powder and similar products. In one of the cases in St. Louis, the woman in question died from her ovarian cancer and her family pushed forward to win justice for her. More people are expected to file lawsuits and the fact that these cases already proved Johnson & Johnson to be negligent mean that many of them may win compensation. If you were harmed by talcum powder, you too may have a strong case. A lawyer can help you decide what steps to take next.