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Is the talc in Johnson & Johnson products safe?

Posted Monday, October 3, 2016 by Alison Harper

Johnson & Johnson is facing hundreds of negligence and products liability lawsuits from women who claim that the company knew that the talc in its products could be carcinogenic but failed to warn the public of this risk.

In the first of these cases, a woman brought suit against the company claiming that it failed to warn consumers of a possible connection between its talc-based products, notably Baby Powder and Shower to Shower, and ovarian cancer. The woman reported that she had used Johnson & Johnson’s talcum powder for thirty years, and, after she was diagnosed, doctors found talc in her cancer tissue. The jury did not award damages to the plaintiff, but found that the company had to make the public aware of the correlation between the use of talc in the genital area and ovarian cancer. Two similar subsequent cases have resulted in awards of over half a billion dollars each in damages.

Despite these jury verdicts, the scientific evidence linking talc and ovarian cancer is far from conclusive. Lab-based animal studies and retrospective case-control studies on the subject have produced largely mixed results. The International Agency for Research on Cancer classified genital exposure to talc as “possibly carcinogenic to humans” in 2006, and the International Journal of Gynecological Cancer related findings just last year from studies showing a 30-60% increase in the risk of ovarian cancer after exposure to talc. Uncertain as the risk may be, the jury verdicts seem to reflect the thinking that the company had a responsibility to make the public aware of the possible effects, especially considering that there is evidence that the company knew about this risk as early as 1997.

Johnson & Johnson plans to appeal the recent rulings, maintaining that their products are safe based on current scientific knowledge and in compliance with regulatory standards. Baby Powder now carries a warning against inhalation, and the company also makes an alternative version made from cornstarch for those consumers who decide that the benefit of the mineral is not worth the risk.


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