Baby powder manufacturer Johnson & Johnson (J&J) currently faces thousands of lawsuits filed by plaintiffs who claim to have suffered serious injuries after using talc-based products for years. J&J has continued to maintain that its products are safe, but according to a recent study, participants exposed to cosmetic talc can develop mesothelioma, a serious type of lung cancer related to asbestos.
Participants Using Talcum Powders for Years Diagnosed with Mesothelioma
For the study, researchers looked at data from 75 individuals with malignant mesothelioma, whose only known exposure to asbestos was via repeated use of cosmetic talcum powders. The mean latency from exposure to diagnosis was about 13 years. Out of the 75 cases, 11 were examined for asbestiform fibers. Results showed:
- Four cases of mesothelioma occurred in people working as barbers/cosmetologists, or in a family member who swept the barbershop.
- Twelve cases occurred in people less than 45 years old.
- Of the 11 people whose tissues were analyzed for asbestos fibers, all showed the presence of those fibers.
The researchers confirmed that mesothelioma can develop following exposure to cosmetic talcum powders. “These appear to be attributable to the presence of anthophyllite and tremolite contaminants in cosmetic talcum powder,” the scientists wrote.
J&J Denied Potential Talc Contamination for Decades
Raw talc is mined from the earth and has been used for decades as an anti-caking, anti-sticking, and dispersing agent in several different types of products, including baby powder and feminine hygiene powder.
Asbestos is also a naturally occurring mineral found in the earth, often in the same areas where talc is found. When talc is mined, it may be contaminated with some asbestos, which is a known human carcinogen.
Manufacturers like J&J have long been aware of the potential link between talc and asbestos, and have taken some precautions. Sometimes, however, their efforts were not cautious enough to address the issue.
In a 2018 Reuters report, investigators revealed that J&J was aware that its raw talc tested positive for low levels of asbestos fibers as far back as 1957. Between 1972 and 1975, at least three tests by three different labs found asbestos in J&J’s talc—in one case at levels reported as “rather high.” J&J did not inform authorities or the public of these findings.
In October 2019, J&J implemented a voluntary recall of one lot of Baby Powder after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced that a sample from that lot had tested positive for asbestos. The company conducted its own tests on the same lot and stated it failed to find asbestos, but the FDA stood by its findings.
So far, several plaintiffs have won substantial verdicts against J&J, including a $4.69 billion verdict obtained by 22 women suffering from ovarian cancer, which they blamed on their use of talcum powder.