In the largest verdict yet to hit pharmaceutical company Johnson & Johnson (J&J), a jury awarded $4.69 billion to 22 women who allege the company’s talcum powder caused their ovarian cancer. This includes $550 million in compensatory damages and $4.14 billion in punitive damages. The cancer survivors, as well as the loved ones of six plaintiffs who died from ovarian cancer, testified that they used J&J’s talcum powder, including Johnson’s Baby Powder and Shower to Shower products, for decades, particularly in their genital area.
Not only have talc products been linked to ovarian cancer in the past, but they’ve also been found to be contaminated with asbestos, a cancer-causing agent that’s been linked to mesothelioma, a rare but aggressive form of cancer that can develop in the lungs, stomach or heart. This case was unique in that it’s the first to suggest that talc contaminated with asbestos was involved in ovarian cancer. Mark Lanier, lead trial counsel for the 22 women, said in a statement:
“For over 40 years, Johnson & Johnson has covered up the evidence of asbestos in their products … We hope this verdict will get the attention of the J&J board and that it will lead them to better inform the medical community and the public about the connection between asbestos, talc and ovarian cancer.
The company should pull talc from the market before causing further anguish, harm, and death from a terrible disease. J&J sells the same powders in a marvelously safe cornstarch variety. If J&J insists on continuing to sell talc, they should mark it with a serious warning.”
Internal Evidence Suggests J&J Was Aware of Asbestos in Their Talc Products
Internal documents presented at the trial showed that J&J officials knew for at least 30 years that asbestos had been found in its talc powders. Talc is a clay mineral that’s easily crushed to make a fine powder. Marketed for use as both a baby product for infants in diapers and a feminine hygiene product to help reduce odors and moisture, talc often occurs naturally near asbestos, a cancer-causing mineral that kills more than 100,000 people each year and is banned in 60 countries.
The mining process is said to cause the two closely related minerals to become intermingled, leading to contamination risks. Cosmetic companies are supposed to purify talc before using it for this reason, and since the 1970s, all talcum powder sold in the U.S. is supposed to be asbestos-free; however, sometimes contamination occurs.
At the landmark trial, evidence was presented that J&J’s talcum powder products were “laced with asbestos for decades, in spite of the representations J&J made to the FDA [U.S. Food and Drug Administration] and others.” Medical experts also offered testimony that asbestos fibers could enter the body via inhalation or application to the genital area.
Further, ovarian tissues from many of the women tested positive for both asbestos fibers and talc particles. About 9,000 more talc-cancer cases have already been filed against J&J, and the favorable verdict is likely to prompt even more. The pharmaceutical giant continues to claim its products are safe, do not contain asbestos and are not linked to ovarian cancer. It plans to appeal the verdict.
Talcum Powder Linked to Ovarian Cancer
Even talcum powder that’s supposedly asbestos-free has been linked to ovarian cancer in the past. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), which is part of the World Health Organization (WHO), classifies the use of talcum powder on the genital area as “possibly carcinogenic to humans.”
In 2008, a study of more than 3,000 women found using talc once a week raised the risk of ovarian cancer by 36 percent while using it daily increased the risk by 41 percent. A 2013 study also found genital talcum powder use was associated with a modest increased risk of ovarian cancer, while a 2016 study revealed an association between genital talc use and ovarian cancer, with risk increasing with greater “talc-years” of use. In all, at least 20 studies are said to link talcum powder use to ovarian cancer.
As for how talc could contribute to cancer, it’s possible that the mineral could travel to the ovaries via the vagina, leading to cancer-causing inflammation. Dr. Adetunji Toriola, a Washington University epidemiologist at Siteman Cancer Center in St. Louis, said in a news release, “We know that inflammation increases ovarian cancer risk. We know talcum powder causes inflammation.” Although the most recent trial is the largest verdict to date, other juries have also sided with victims and awarded sizable sums in damages.
For instance, in February 2016, a jury found J&J’s talcum powder contributed to a 62-year-old woman’s ovarian cancer, awarding her $72 million in damages. In May 2016, another woman was awarded $55 million in damages after talc embedded in her ovaries was found to have contributed to her cancer. Internal documents and memos sealed the deal for jurors in this case as well, proving the company “tried to cover up and influence the boards that regulate cosmetics.”
J&J Conspired to Stop US Talc Warnings
In 1993, the U.S. National Toxicology Program (NTP) conducted a study on talc that revealed it has carcinogenic effects, whether it contained asbestos or not. The finding worried J&J enough that it took action to prevent potential regulation or warning label requirements for talc. As reported by the Huffington Post:
“In response to the federal NTP study, the Cosmetic Toiletry and Fragrance Association formed the Talc Interested Party Task Force (TIPTF). Johnson & Johnson was a member of the trade lobby and was the primary actor and contributors of TIPTF. The stated purpose of TIPTF was to pool financial resources of these companies in an effort to collectively defend talc use and to prevent regulation of any type over this industry.”
Information revealed during the May 2016 trial suggested TIPTF hired scientists to perform biased research regarding talc safety, edited scientific reports prior to sending them to government agencies and released false information about talc safety. “In 2005 TIPTF agreed to edit and delete portions of scientific papers being submitted on their behalf to the NTP, and threatened to sue the NTP in an attempt to prevent talc from being classified as a carcinogen,” the Huffington Post continued.
Canada, however, took a stand against talc, classifying it as a very toxic, cancer-causing substance in the “D2A” category — the same category as asbestos. That was in 2006, the same year J&J’s talc supplier also began adding warning labels of talc’s potential cancer risk to packaging. “As of this day, Johnson & Johnson still does not pass this warning on to consumers.”
J&J One of the ‘Top Corporate Criminals’
J&J has created an image of being a wholesome company selling gentle products like baby shampoo, but the Big Pharma giant has a sordid past tainted with a slew of dangerous products and cover-ups. For many years, J&J’s Baby Shampoo sold in the U.S. contained two hazardous ingredients — 1,4-dioxane and quaternium-15. 1,4-dioxane is a “likely carcinogen” while quaternium-15 releases formaldehyde, a known carcinogen.
Only after public outcry did J&J commit to removing the toxins from their products. This is only the tip of the iceberg, and the company has earned the dubious moniker as a top corporate criminal for good reason, including deliberately destroying documents related to a criminal investigation case on one its products. In addition, J&J:
- Paid more than $1 billion in a civil settlement involving fraudulent marketing of their antipsychotic drug Risperdal
- Pleaded guilty to illegally promoting its epilepsy drug Topamax for psychiatric purposes in May 2011, and in so doing settled a civil lawsuit in the case for $75 million
- Was accused by the U.S. Department of Justice of paying tens of millions of dollars in kickbacks to Omnicare Inc. to buy and recommend J&J drugs
- Was sued by the government of British Columbia, Canada for aggressively marketing the “Ortho Evra” contraception patch without disclosing serious side effects like blood clots, pulmonary emboli, strokes, heart attacks and deep vein thrombosis
- Has had countless recalls on its pain products, specifically Motrin, Tylenol and Fentanyl (painkiller patches)
In one case in 2010, former J&J CEO William Weldon publicly admitted that the company not only hid manufacturing problems but also initiated a “phantom recall” involving more than 80,000 Motrin tablets. Rather than announcing the recall and having stores remove the product from shelves, the company sent in undercover agents disguised as regular shoppers to buy up the remaining stock.
Though not illegal, months apparently passed from when the FDA first learned of J& J’s “recall” plan and when they eventually sent a message telling them to conduct an official recall. The FDA further stated that J&J was “hiding the nature of its activities,” which seems to be a theme with the company.
Be Careful Regarding Your Personal Care Products
The thousands of talc-cancer lawsuits currently pending against J&J are a poignant reminder that it’s a buyer beware market when it comes to personal care products. Women are exposed to an average of 168 chemicals in their personal care products daily (men, 85), many of which have been linked to cancer, reproductive toxicity, allergies, asthma and other health problems.
In all, more than 10,000 chemicals may be found in personal care products, and no safety testing is required before they hit the market. Very few chemicals have been banned for use in U.S. cosmetics and the industry is largely self-regulated, which means the fox is guarding the henhouse in terms of consumer safety. The Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep database contains ingredient lists and safety ratings for close to 75,000 cosmetics and personal care products, which you can use to help you make safer choices.
- Jury awards $417M to a single plaintiff in lawsuit linking Johnson & Johnson talcum powder to the woman’s ovarian cancer
The infographic below also lists several must-avoid personal care product ingredients, along with safer alternatives. Choosing personal care products with fewer, and recognizable, ingredients can also minimize your risks, as can using fewer personal care products to begin with. In the case of talcum powder or baby powder, you can avoid the potential cancer risks simply by not using it. If you must use powder, cornstarch, baking soda or arrowroot starch may make safer alternatives.
Your skin is your largest organ, and anything you put on it should contain only the best and safest ingredients from nature. So before slathering lotion or body wash on your skin, take a look at this infographic on toxic chemicals found in personal care products. Discover these common yet deadly chemicals and how they can potentially sabotage your health and well-being.
*Article originally appeared at Mercola. Reposted with permission.