The History of Talcum Powder Lawsuits

Leading talcum powder manufacturer Johnson & Johnson stopped selling its signature Baby Powder in 2020 following years of scrutiny surrounding the talc-based powder and its possible link to cancer. The issue with Johnson’s and other talcum powder products is the presence of talc, a very soft, naturally occurring mineral mined from the earth. In powder form, talc is valued for its ability to absorb moisture, prevent rashes, and reduce friction and odors, which made it a popular product for use on babies and by both men and women. However, thousands of lawsuits pending in state and federal courts across the country accuse talcum powder manufacturers like Johnson & Johnson of selling talc-based powders that are contaminated with asbestos, a known carcinogen, or cancer-causing substance.

Talc May Be Contaminated with Cancer-Causing Asbestos

Although talc appears to pose few health risks on its own, the mineral occurs in close proximity to asbestos in the earth. Therefore, it is not uncommon for talc deposits mined for use in consumer products like talcum powder and certain cosmetics or personal care products to become contaminated with asbestos during mining. According to the FDA, this can occur “if talc mining sites are not selected carefully and steps are not taken to purify the talc ore sufficiently.” Unfortunately for thousands of consumers, their regular use of talcum powder may have resulted in a diagnosis of mesothelioma, ovarian cancer or another type of cancer possibly resulting from exposure to asbestos. The talcum powder product at the center of the cancer controversy is Johnson’s Baby Powder, though other talc-based powder products have also been named in product liability lawsuits, including Johnson’s Shower to Shower Body Powder, Gold Bond Body Powder, Gold Bond Extra Strength Body Powder and Gold Bond No Mess Powder Spray.

Johnson’s Baby Powder Recall and Discontinuation

Johnson & Johnson, the leading manufacturer of talcum powder, has faced intense scrutiny regarding the safety of its baby powder products in recent years. The most significant blow to the company came in 2018, when Reuters released a scathing report accusing J&J of knowing for decades that its talc-based baby powder products were tainted with asbestos, and intentionally withholding this damaging information from the public. The report revealed that, on several occasions between 1971 and 2003, J&J’s raw talc and talcum powder products tested positive for asbestos. It also cited company memos and internal documents which indicated that company executives were aware of the asbestos contamination issue and did nothing to warn consumers of this danger.

In October 2019, Johnson & Johnson recalled 33,000 bottles of Johnson’s Baby Powder after FDA testing found trace amounts of chrysotile asbestos in a sample taken from one batch of the product. The following May, Johnson & Johnson announced that it would be permanently discontinuing the sale of Johnson’s Baby Powder in the U.S. and Canada. The company claimed in a press release that the decision was based on a declining demand for talc-based baby powder due to “changes in consumer habits and fueled by misinformation around the safety of the product and a constant barrage of litigation advertising.”

Studies Linking Talcum Powder to Cancer

The potential link between talcum powder and cancer has been studied for decades. “Published scientific literature going back to the 1960s has suggested a possible association between the use of powders containing talc in the genital area and the incidence of ovarian cancer,” the FDA states in a page about talc on its website. “In addition, questions about the potential contamination of talc with asbestos have been raised since the 1970s.” In the years since, dozens of studies have identified talcum powder use as a possible risk factor for the development of cancer. One study published in 2008 found that regular talcum powder use increased the risk of ovarian cancer by as much as 36%, and another published in 2013 reported a 20-30% increased risk of ovarian cancer in women who routinely applied talcum powder to their genital area. Exposure to asbestos-contaminated talc may also increase the risk of mesothelioma, an aggressive cancer caused primarily by inhalation or ingestion of asbestos dust or fibers. In a study published in March 2020, researchers found that mesothelioma can develop as a result of the “presence of anthophyllite and tremolite contaminants in cosmetic talcum powder.”

Talcum Powder Lawsuits

Talcum powder lawsuits brought against Johnson & Johnson and other manufacturers claim that the companies knew that their talc-based powder products were contaminated with asbestos and could put users at risk for mesothelioma, ovarian cancer, tubal cancer and other types of cancer. Despite this potential for serious harm, the manufacturers allegedly failed to provide consumers with adequate warnings about the health risks associated with their talc-based products. Johnson & Johnson faces the largest number of talcum powder cancer claims – currently upwards of 20,000 – filed on behalf of consumers who routinely used the company’s talc-based baby powder products and were subsequently diagnosed with cancers like mesothelioma, ovarian cancer and tubal cancer. While J&J has won a handful of talcum powder cancer cases, juries across the country have awarded plaintiffs billions of dollars in damages and the lawsuits continue to be filed.