Should you stop using talcum powder?
That’s the question people have been asking themselves after a US court ordered Johnson & Johnson, the global manufacturer of one of the most popular brands of talc, to pay $525 million to a woman who claimed she developed ovarian cancer after using the company’s talc-based products.
The Los Angeles Superior Court jury’s verdict on Monday in favour of California resident Eva Echeverria was the largest to date in lawsuits alleging Johnson & Johnson failed to adequately warn consumers about the cancer risks of talc-based products.
Ms Echeverria has used Johnson’s talc products for feminine hygiene.
The verdict included $88 million in compensatory damages and $437 million in punitive damages, a spokeswoman for Echeverria’s lawyers said. It followed several trials in Missouri state court that resulted in more than $377 million in verdicts against Johnson & Johnson.
“We will appeal today’s verdict because we are guided by the science, which supports the safety of Johnson’s Baby Powder,” Johnson & Johnson said in a statement.
Should Australian consumers worry?
The safety of talcum powder available on the shelves of Australian supermarkets is matter of debate, according to the Cancer Council, which points out that unprocessed talc contains asbestos.
The Cancer Council cannot give consumers an absolute assurance that talcum powder does not cause cancer.
“Asbestos free talc, such as that found in modern talcum powder has been suggested to increase the risk of ovarian cancer in women who apply talcum powder regularly in the genital area,” the Cancer Council of NSW says.
“Several studies in women have looked at the possible link between talcum powder and ovarian cancer, with mixed findings. Some studies report a slightly increased risk, while others have found no increase.
“The evidence is insufficient to conclude that use of talcum powder leads to an increased risk of ovarian cancer. It is also unclear how talcum powder might influence the development of ovarian cancer.”
Due to the inconclusive nature of the research, the Cancer Council goes on to say that talcum powder “is classified by the International Agency for Research on Cancer as possibly carcinogenic (cancer causing) to humans when applied to the genital area.”
Not the first massive fine
At trial, lawyers for Echeverria accused the New Jersey-based company of encouraging women to use its talc products despite knowing of years of studies linking ovarian cancer diagnoses and deaths to genital talc use.
Johnson & Johnson’s lawyers argued that various scientific studies as well as federal agencies including the US Food and Drug Administration have not found that talc products are carcinogenic.
The trial follows five prior ones in Missouri state court. Johnson & Johnson lost four of those trials and along with a talc supplier has been hit with a total of $386 million in verdicts. Before Monday, the largest verdict was for $139 million.
– with RAW