Is Asbestos in Talcum Baby Powder the ‘Crime of the Century’?

The following article is courtesy of legalexaminer.com

Recent health and safety information has arisen with regard to asbestos contamination of common talc baby powder products, including talc products sold by Johnson & Johnson, and other talcum powder products still for sale throughout the United States.

During 2016 and 2017, defective product personal injury litigation has given rise to allegations that Johnson & Johnson, and other companies, have continued to sell talcum baby powder for decades adulterated by some percentage of asbestos or adulterated by what is called “asbestiform talc” (i.e. a form of talc fibers highly similar in chemical composition to asbestos fibers).  Additionally, pathology studies conducted on cancerous ovary tissue, in recent ovarian cancer/talc personal injury litigation, has confirmed the presence of both talc and asbestos fibers in some tissue samples studied by specialists.

In a deposition from December 2016, one chemist described having done testing in the 1970’s of various Johnson & Johnson baby powder products and having microscopically confirmed asbestos adulterating the baby powder in about 50 percent of the baby powder bottles that he tested.  This was at a time that the FDA was considering regulating cosmetic talc products but J & J and other consumer products companies selling cosmetic powders with talc assured the FDA that it had refined its mining methods to eliminate asbestos, and, in the end, the FDA never regulated the cosmetic talc powder products for asbestos in the United States.  In other words, consumers since the 70s, buying talcum powder products, had to trust these companies not to be selling a product adulterated by asbestos. Keep in mind, asbestos was the first well known carcinogen regulated by OSHA because it is known to cause terminal mesothelioma cancers, as well as cancers to numerous tissues of the human body.

A large number of attorneys are pursuing cases around the United States alleging not only that ovarian cancers are caused by talc fibers in baby powder products, but new suits are being filed alleging that many talcum powder products are still contaminated with asbestos. Some lawsuits have also been filed alleging that pleural mesothelioma, peritoneal mesotheliomas, and several other cancers are not only tied to talc baby powder products but may have been caused by adulterating asbestos or asbestiform talc fibers contained in these common consumer baby powder products.

Johnson and Johnson, the leading retailer of talc baby powder, has steadfastly refused to put any warning on their talc baby powder products, whether the warnings advise of higher rates of cancer in general, of potential adulteration with asbestos, or even that talc has been associated with higher rates of ovarian cancers.  After hearing the evidence in a number of court cases, juries have sided with the women suffering ovarian cancers in the majority of the trials over the last year.  Juror interviews during 2017 indicated that many were appalled that J & J resisted placing any warnings on the talc baby powder products, based on the totality of the evidence.

Let’s Go Back to the 1970s

The government was seriously considering regulating talc in cosmetic powders since there was solid evidence asbestos was in these products.  The industry needed to tamp down the call for regulations and had to convince regulators that they would remove all the adulteration with asbestos.  But how? The talc industry decided to provide the regulators with testing that they conducted (without direct government oversight) to show virtually no asbestos was in their current baby powder talc products.  Just how serious were the regulators in the 70s?  Read the two memos in the original article, as well as the rest of the story.