Talcum Powder Lawsuit: Asbestos in Talc Linked to Mesothelioma

Legal // November 22, 2017

For many years, people have relied on talc for varied uses, whether in baby powder to help prevent diaper rash, in makeup or even in more industrial settings for rubber. The mineral became a go-to for such uses because of its ability to absorb moisture and how accessible it was for such products. Talc has even been labeled by the U.S. Food and Drugs Administration (FDA) as “generally recognized as safe.”

Despite this label, its safety has been put under a microscope in more recent years. Though as an individual mineral, talc doesn’t seem dangerous, its link to cancers have become more evident. Because talc and asbestos deposits are often found near each other in the earth, much of the talc supply is contaminated with these deadly fibers. Even with required testing by the FDA to ensure talc products do not contain any asbestos, studies and court documents have revealed that some of these products actually contain trace amounts of the carcinogen.

As a result, many consumers have stepped forward with talcum powder lawsuits against these companies after facing ovarian cancer and mesothelioma diagnoses from using these products loyally for years, unaware of the risks they were facing.

Mesothelioma, Ovarian Cancer and Talcum Powder

Though there have been many debates around the link between talcum powder and cancer, the role of asbestos in causing serious diseases and cancer has been confirmed for many years. Research has shown that no amount of asbestos is considered safe and can lead to these severe diagnoses after a long latency period. Since asbestos deposits are found in and around many of these talc mines, as miners blast or dig at the talc, they may be disturbing the toxin.

Asbestos is dangerous when it is disturbed, like in this process. The fibers will become loose and airborne, posing a risk for those working in the mine, as well as these later talc products that become contaminated with the loose fibers. Many of these mines have been shown to contain tremolite asbestos, though other studies have also revealed trace amounts of other types of asbestos as well. All types of asbestos are considered carcinogenic.

With the nature of asbestos-caused diseases, it may take 10 to 50 years for the dangerous effects of exposure to reveal themselves. Many who are later diagnosed may not even notice the symptoms or think they’re anything more than a common illness, making these diseases even more dangerous. Consumers using any of these asbestos-contaminated talc products may be facing ovarian cancer, mesothelioma or other illnesses as a result for many years to come.

Companies like Johnson & Johnson, Whittaker Clark & Daniels, and Colgate-Palmolive have all been found at least partially responsible in selling talcum powder that led to a cancer diagnosis. Johnson & Johnson in particular has recently come under fire again when a recent talcum powder lawsuit revealed employees were well aware of the asbestos fibers lurking in their products. According to an unsealed memo, the company acknowledged the presence of asbestos, but trained staff to reassure any concerned consumers that their products never have and never would contain asbestos. However, tests for asbestos and company documents have shown otherwise.

Testing for Asbestos in Talc

Since 1973, the FDA has required cosmetic products using talc to be tested for asbestos. There are a few ways companies can test for asbestos, though some experts have called many of these tests into question for not being sensitive enough to detect asbestos fibers. One of the most reliable and used tests is analysis with a transmission electron microscope (TEM), though some labs use other methods like polarized light microscopy.

With these tests, researchers are able to determine if asbestos fibers are present, how much asbestos is contaminating the product, and the type of asbestos. Studies from the past and in recent years have found many contaminated talcum powders, including Johnson & Johnson’s. Back in 1976, a study was released that focused on 20 brands with products labeled as talc or talcum powder. Researchers found 10 of the products contained asbestos, and the product with the highest presence of asbestos in this 1976 study was again investigated in a 2014 study tied to a mesothelioma victim.

This study further highlighted that results may vary between labs and the test methods used. The researchers focused on the specific, though unnamed, brand of talcum powder that had been believed to cause a woman’s mesothelioma. Four different laboratories tested samples of the product to determine the presence of asbestos and how the woman may have developed mesothelioma. Only one lab was unable to detect asbestos in their sample, despite using the same general method of TEM. Upon re-analyzing these samples in one of the other labs, researchers confirmed there was actually asbestos present in that lab’s samples.

Though researchers didn’t reveal any of the specific brands they studied, these tests prove there is a strong presence of asbestos in many talcum powders, which has put consumers at risk for decades. With such a large presence and some clear difficulties in properly detecting it, consumer safety when using these products in the past and today is highly questionable.

Talcum Powder Lawsuits Hold Companies Liable

While going through the legal process to develop a case for a talcum powder lawsuit may seem daunting, it’s an important step for these victims to not only help bring attention to the potential dangers of these products, but to also hold these companies accountable for their negligence. Though it’s unclear if some of these companies explicitly knew about asbestos in their products, like the court documents revealed about Johnson & Johnson, the toxin’s presence indicates that safety protocols and testing may not have been as much of a priority or reliable enough to protect the public.

The wide presence of asbestos in talc and the heavy use of talcum powder has lead to more lawsuits in recent years. Though several thousand women have filed lawsuits against Johnson & Johnson and others in relation to ovarian cancer, mesothelioma victims have also taken legal action against these companies for their asbestos use.

Whittaker, Clark & Daniels have faced several asbestos talcum powder lawsuits in the last few years after mesothelioma victims were exposed through their products like Desert Flower talcum powder. The highest verdict in one of these cases was against the company in 2016 when Philip Depoian was awarded $18 million in California court. Depoian claimed he developed mesothelioma as a result of exposure from their talcum powders used at his father’s barbershop.

Colgate Palmolive’s Cashmere Bouquet talcum powder has also been linked to some cases of mesothelioma. The company is currently going to trial against mesothelioma survivor Mary Lyons, who claims her diagnosis was at least partially caused from her use of the popular product through the 1950s to the 1970s. They have already lost one similar case in California against Judith Winkel, who used the product for at least 15 years. Winkel was awarded $13 million, but the company maintained that there wasn’t a clear connection between their product and her mesothelioma.

Most recently, Johnson & Johnson won their first case in regard to mesothelioma this month, though it remains to be seen if there will be more similar talcum powder lawsuits brought against the company and others. Even with this victory, the thousands of other cases against them prove the extent of the harm caused by their asbestos use.

Companies using known carcinogens like asbestos must be held responsible for their actions and negative effects on so many lives. More needs to be done to prevent these careless exposures, like putting better safety measures in place. But until change finally happens, better awareness is the best prevention.