Johnson’s Baby Powder has been a staple in many householdsfor over a century, but recent talcum powder lawsuits against the conglomeratehave exposed the cancer risks associated with its use.
First marketed by Johnson & Johnson (J&J) in 1894,Johnson’s Baby Powder became a staple to prevent diaper rash, but other usesfor the powder were soon discovered, and it became widespread in many otherproducts marketed to consumers.
Baby powder is known to be an absorbent, light substance,making it ideal for many uses. Besides its use as a baby powder, the companymarketed the powder as a feminine hygiene product for women because of itsability to absorb moisture and prevent rashes. It was also formulated for usein cosmetics, deodorants, and dry shampoos. Innovative consumers found ituseful for everything from keeping playing cards from sticking together tofreshening shoes.
The product contains talc, a soft mineral that is mined,then ground into a powder referred to as talcum or talc. Talc by itself is notknown to be harmful. The issue is that it occurs naturally in the ground along with asbestos, which is a known cancer-causing agent.
It has been clearly shown that asbestoscauses cancer, including ovarian and lung cancer, mesothelioma, andlaryngeal cancer. Because talc and asbestos are mined together, this close linkmay be the source of cancer risk when using talc products.
Whether talcum powder increases the risk for cancer has beenstudied and discussed for many years. Recent developments make it more importantthan ever for consumers to understand the controversy that’s been brewing aroundtalcum powder.
As early as the 1950’s, laboratories found contaminantsin talc used by J&J that appeared to be consistent with asbestos, which isoften described as fibrous or needle-like. Since that time, studies by severallaboratories also showed these impurities.
Scientists started questioning the relationship between talcand ovarian cancer as early as 1971. In that year a scientificpaper reported the results of a study that examined tissue from ovariantumors. The scientists found talc particles in the tumor tissue, and pointedout the connection between talc and asbestos. Other studies demonstrated themovement of talc particles to the ovaries. This sparked curiosity about theconnection with ovarian cancer.
Research from several other studies since then on women withovarian cancer who used talcum powder has shown everything from no risk to amoderate risk. One studythat looked at over 8,000 cases found a risk of ovarian cancer between 20 and 30percent in women who used talcum powder for feminine hygiene.
The link between talc and asbestos is troubling, but it’snotoriously difficultto prove what may cause a certain type of cancer.
Despite the studies and mounting evidence of the linkbetween talcum powder and ovarian cancer, J&J continued to market it, andinsisted that its powder did not contain asbestos. However, a recent investigationby Reuters reported that the company may have known their talcum powder wascontaminated with cancer-causing asbestos. According to this report, companydocuments uncovered as a result of talcum powder lawsuits show that from 1971to the early 2000s, the talc J&J used would sometimes test positive forasbestos.
Internal J&J reports reviewed during this investigationshow that most of their testing didn’t show any asbestos, but also noted thatJ&J’s test methods had limitations when detecting trace amounts ofasbestos. In addition, the company tested only a small fraction of its talc.
Other documents uncovered by Reuters show that J&J knewthat three tests by different labs between 1972 and 1975 found asbestos atlevels that were described as “ratherhigh.” Nevertheless, J&J told the FDA in 1976 that it did not findasbestos in any sample of talc from December 1972 to October 1973.
Further, Reuters uncovered that company officials discussed howto deal with the problem in company documents and reports during the 1970sand 1980s. While they were talking about it, they did not disclose theirconcerns to consumers or to regulatory agencies.
Over the past few years J&J has been hit with multiple lawsuitsalleging that its talc products caused cancer. Juries have awarded over $5billion to plaintiffs since 2016, and the company is currently facing nearly13,000 claims with up to $20 billion at stake. In February the Securities andExchange Commission and the Justice Department issued subpoenas to J&J relatedto these lawsuits.
Concerns about talc contaminated with asbestos go beyondbaby powder. Recently the FDA alerted consumers notto use three cosmetic products—eye shadows, contour palette, and compactpowder—from Claire’s Stores, Inc., due to these products testing positive forasbestos.
J&J deniesthat the company knew that its baby powder contained asbestos. They maintainthat their baby powder is free from asbestos and does not cause cancer.
People who are concerned about a serious cancer risk fromtalcum powder should consider staying away from it, or at least using itcautiously, until more scientific evidence of the link between talc andasbestos is available.