The first warnings on the danger of talcum powder were sounded over four decades ago.
Researchers from the UK found particles of talc “deeply embedded” in a number of ovarian tumors.
And despite additional research over the years linking the use of this seemingly benign product to cancer, it’s taken several court cases in St. Louis to bring those warnings into the light of day.
In fact, the jurors in these recent Johnson & Johnson baby powder trials have been so incensed by what they’ve heard that they’ve awarded hundreds of millions of dollars to these cancer victims and their families.
It looks like a whole stable of Johnson & Johnson attorneys will be spending the summer going from courtroom to courtroom.
There have been a string of losses for the company, and there are over a thousand more cases to go.
The latest verdict was an astonishing $110.5 million for Lois Slemp, who said that she used J&J baby powder and Shower to Shower products for feminine hygiene over four decades. Five years ago Slemp was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. She was too sick to even attend the trial.
Before that, there was the case of Deborah Giannecchini. The California woman was awarded over $70 million when the jury found that J&J was “negligent” in not warning about the risk.
And before Deborah, there was Jacqueline Fox, whose family forged ahead with her case despite the fact that the Alabama woman passed away from ovarian cancer a year before her trial concluded. Her family was awarded $72 million — some of which will go to a fund to help other victims.
Documents that came out during these trials clearly showed that J&J had known about the risk for quite a while. But it kept the link between talc and ovarian cancer under wraps so it could “protect the company’s image,” said Lois Slemp’s attorney.
“They chose to put profits over people, spending millions in efforts to manipulate scientific and regulatory scrutiny,” he said.
J&J continues to maintain that its talcum powder products are safe as can be. After all, they were originally for babies’ bottoms — it doesn’t get much safer than that, right?
But when you crack open the history, it’s obvious that the company had plenty of advance warning that it never bothered telling millions of women.
By the 1960s, pediatricians were sounding the alarm, warning moms about the dangers of an infant inhaling the powder, which could even kill a baby.
In 1971, a published study confirmed the findings of talc particles in ovarian tumors, and in 1982 an epidemiologist by the name of Daniel Cramer published research that showed a link between talc use near the genitals and ovarian cancer.
Cramer went so far as to tell a J&J executive that women should be told about the risk. Obviously, that didn’t happen.
And over ten years ago the International Agency for Research on Cancer listed talc as a “possible carcinogen.”
As far as the FDA goes, it apparently decided to “take a powder” where warnings about talcum are concerned. It took a lot of sick women to do the agency’s job and reveal the danger of exposure to this product.
And even though J&J has been dumping chemicals, such as triclosan and formaldehyde, from its baby products for a while now, it appears that its talcum powder will remain on the market for the time being.
If you love baby powder, however, you can keep right on using it — because J&J, along with other brands, also makes a version using corn starch. Just be sure to read the label carefully so you get the right one — for both mom and baby!
“J&J loses $110 million verdict over talc cancer-link claim” Margaret Cronin Fish, Tim Bross, May 4, 2017, Bloomberg, bloomberg.com