Johnson & Johnson continues to face allegations that the company’s talc-based baby powder caused ovarian cancer and mesothelioma in thousands of women, with authorities now looking at whether the company intentionally withheld information about the carcinogen risk from customers.
In mid-July, a federal case against Johnson & Johnson also began. U.S. District Judge Freda Wolfson’s decision will affect the disposition of 11,000 civil lawsuits that have been brought against the company. There is no word on when a decision may be made — but the hearing, featuring testimony from 22 expert witnesses, is expected to continue until the end of the month.
A Litigation History
Numerous state courts have found Johnson & Johnson guilty of exposing consumers to asbestos via the talcum powder. Notably, a Missouri court awarded women who say they were harmed by Johnson & Johnson baby powder $4.7 billion in damages, although Johnson & Johnson continues to appeal these cases.
Some of these lawsuits allege that Johnson & Johnson knew for decades that talc-based products were harmful to consumers’ health. According to Asbsestos.com, internal memos highlight the fact that scientists for Johnson & Johnson knew that talc may pose “a severe health hazard.” These serious allegations are what federal authorities are examining now.
Talc And Its Link to Asbestos
Talc is a naturally occurring mineral with absorbent properties that can keep the skin smooth without drying it out. Hence, it is commonly used in many personal hygiene and beauty products.
“Talc is not a dangerous mineral,” Karen Selby, RN, on-staff nurse for Asbestos.com, tells Simplemost. “However, when talc becomes contaminated with asbestos, which is a known carcinogen, it can lead to many negative health conditions.”
The issue is that talc (which can be found in areas across the United States, including Idaho, Washington, Montana and the Appalachian Mountains) can be contaminated by asbestos, as these two minerals naturally form alongside one another. Exposure to asbestos can lead to mesothelioma, asbestosis and lung cancer.
As alleged by the recent cases against Johnson & Johnson, talc-based products may also lead to ovarian cancer if applied to intimate areas. Ovarian cancer is the fifth leading cause of death for women over 35, and exposure to asbestos fibers can increase a woman’s risk.
It is also harmful to breathe in talc-based products.
“While talcum powder is not linked to causing cancer in babies, the American Academy of Pediatrics warns against using it on babies because it can cause them to develop breathing problems and lung damage,” Selby said. “Parents can always use diaper creams or baby powder made with cornstarch on their babies.”
Talc And Its Use In Cosmetics
Selby explains that talcum powder is found in makeup as well, which has raised serious concerns in recent months.
“Talc is also used in makeup to make the product smoother and silkier,” says Selby. “It also acts as a filler. However, some retailers recently came under fire because several independent and FDA lab tests showed their products contained asbestos.”
In 2017, a concerned customer discovered that several makeup items geared toward young girls contained asbestos when she had them tested independently. These products were sold at retailers like Claire’s and Justice. The FDA asked the stores to voluntarily recall these products, and Claire’s eventually removed all talc from its products.
“We take these concerns, and our obligation to protect consumers, seriously,” said FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, M.D., and Susan Mayne, Ph.D., director of the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, in a March 2019 press release about the recall. “Because of the health risks posed by asbestos, which are well-documented by other government agencies, we want to reassure all parents and consumers that the FDA is dedicated to exploring new ways to better protect Americans from this and other public health risks and preventing consumers from being exposed to similar risks from cosmetics.”
FDA To Take A Closer Look at Talc
Growing concerns over talc and its link to asbestos have led the FDA to take a closer look at how this mineral is mined and manufactured. Gottlieb and Mayne promised to investigate how manufacturers are sourcing talc and whether they test the raw talc and their finished products for asbestos.
“We also want to know how many cosmetics products contain talc and whether manufacturers have received adverse event reports associated with talc-containing products,” their statement said. “We believe this information will help us better identify specific cosmetic products and raw ingredient suppliers that may be more likely to be contaminated and inform steps that the FDA may be able to take to better protect consumers.”
If you are concerned about possible asbestos contamination in talc-based products, check the ingredient list for “talcum” and consider talc alternatives like cornstarch.
“There is no evidence at this time linking cornstarch powders with any form of cancer,” the American Cancer Society said.