Alright this news report just hit my Facebook newsfeed because my friend posted it.
I immediately felt drawn to this because Johnson’s talcum powder was quite the ubiquitous product in households when I was growing up in the 80s. In fact I remember my mother used to dust my baby siblings’ privates with talcum powder when they were wearing cloth nappies, as a way to prevent nappy rash from forming on wet skin – cloth nappies just weren’t as absorbent as your modern day Pampers nappies. I have no doubt she did the same to me when I was a baby too.
A closer look at the actual documentation in the court case explained what the issue was about. It has been shown in past research (quite a lot of research done too) that talc is heavily associated with ovarian cancer WHEN DUSTED ON WOMEN’S PRIVATES OVER AN EXTENDED PERIOD. Although the American Cancer Society says it is not clear if products containing talcum powder increase cancer risk and the International Agency for Research on Cancer, which is part of the World Health Organization, classifies talc as “possibly carcinogenic to humans.”, the research done so far has been conclusive enough for companies such as condom manufacturers to stop dusting manufactured condoms with talc. The skin on women’s privates is thinner than the skin on other parts of the body, hence perhaps facilitating easier absorption of carcinogenic compounds into the body, causing cancer. That’s my understanding of it anyway.. Does freak me out a little knowing that my mum used to use talc on her babies’ privates to prevent nappy rash! Will keep me thinking about it years down the road, wondering if it could cause me to develop ovarian cancer in later years.
Coming back to the topic here, the reason why Johnson’s lost the court case is because they knew about the research linking talc with ovarian cancer, plus they knew there were alternatives to talc such as cornstarch (see point 73 below in the court document), yet they still used talc in their powder products anyway, and did not put a disclaimer label on their talcum products to warn consumers of the link between use of the products and ovarian cancer.
Anyway, if you’re reading this and you’re interested, here’s the relevant portion of the court document that explains the link between talc and ovarian cancer :
ALLEGATIONS COMMON TO ALL COUNTS
71. Talc is a magnesium trisilicate and is mined from the earth. Talc is an inorganic mineral. The Defendant, Imerys Talc America, Inc., f/k/a Luzenac America, Inc., mined the talc contained in the PRODUCTS.
72. Talc is the main substance in talcum powders. The Johnson & Johnson Defendants manufactured the PRODUCTS. The PRODUCTS are composed almost entirely of talc.
73. At all pertinent times, a feasible alternative to the PRODUCTS has existed. Cornstarch is an organic carbohydrate that is quickly broken down by the body with no known health effects. Cornstarch powders have been sold and marketed for the same uses with nearly the same effectiveness.
74. Imerys Talc has continually advertised and marketed talc as safe for human use.
75. Imerys Talc supplies customers with material safety data sheets for talc. These material safety data sheets are supposed to convey adequate health and warning information to its customers.
76. Historically, “Johnson’s Baby Powder” has been a symbol of freshness, cleanliness, and purity. During the time in question, the Johnson & Johnson Defendants advertised and marketed this product as the beacon of “freshness” and “comfort”, eliminating friction on the skin, absorbing “excess wetness” helping keep skin feeling dry and comfortable, and “clinically proven gentle and mild”. The Johnson & Johnson Defendants compelled women through advertisements to dust themselves with this product to mask odors. The bottle of “Johnson’s Baby Powder” specifically targets women by stating, “For you, use every day to help feel soft, fresh, and comfortable.”
77. During the time in question, the Johnson & Johnson Defendants advertised and marketed the product “Shower to Shower” as safe for use by women as evidenced in its slogan “A sprinkle a day keeps odor away”, and through advertisements such as “Your body perspires in more places than just under your arms. Use SHOWER to SHOWER to feel dry, fresh, and comfortable throughout the day.” And “SHOWER to SHOWER can be used all over your body.”
78. The Plaintiffs used the PRODUCTS to dust their perineum for feminine hygiene purposes. This was an intended and foreseeable use of the PRODUCTS based on the advertising, marketing, and labeling of the PRODUCTS.
79. In 1971, the first study was conducted that suggested an association between talc and ovarian cancer. This study was conducted by Dr. WJ Henderson and others in Cardiff, Wales.
80. In 1982, the first epidemiologic study was performed on talc powder use in the female genital area. This study was conducted by Dr. Daniel Cramer and others. This study found a 92% increased risk in ovarian cancer with women who reported genital talc use. Shortly after this study was published, Dr. Bruce Semple of Johnson & Johnson came and visited Dr. Cramer about his study. Dr. Cramer advised Dr. Semple that Johnson & Jonhson should place a warning on its talcum powders about the ovarian cancer risks so that women can make an informed decision about their health.
81. Since 1982, there have been approximately twenty-two (22) additional epidemiologic studies providing data regarding the association of talc and ovarian cancer. Nearly
all of these studies have reported an elevated risk for ovarian cancer associated with genital talc use in women.
82. In 1993, the United States National Toxicology Program published a study on the toxicity of non-asbestiform talc and found clear evidence of carcinogenic activity. Talc was found to be a carcinogen, with or without the presence of asbestos-like fibers.
83. In response to the United States National Toxicology Program’s study, the Cosmetic Toiletry and Fragrance Association (CTFA) formed the Talc Interested Party Task Force (TIPTF). Johnson & Johnson, Inc., Johnson & Johnson Consumer Companies, Inc. and Luzenac were members of the CTFA and were the primary actors and contributors of the TIPTF. The stated purpose of the TIPTF was to pool financial resources of these companies in an effort to collectively defend talc use at all costs and to prevent regulation of any type over this industry. The TIPTF hired scientists to perform biased research regarding the safety of talc, members of the TIPTF edited scientific reports of the scientists hired by this group prior the submission of these scientific reports to governmental agencies, members of the TIPTF knowingly released false information about the safety of talc to the consuming public, and used political and economic influence on regulatory bodies regarding talc. All of these activities have been well coordinated and planned by these companies and organizations over the past four (4) decades in an effort to prevent regulation of talc and to create confusion to the consuming public about the true hazards of talc relative to ovarian cancer.
84. On November 10, 1994, the Cancer Prevention Coalition mailed a letter to then Johnson & Johnson C.E.O, Ralph Larson, informing his company that studies as far back as 1960’s “. . . show[ ] conclusively that the frequent use of talcum powder in the genital area pose[ ] a serious health risk of ovarian cancer.” The letter cited a recent study by Dr. Bernard Harlow from Harvard Medical School confirming this fact and quoted a portion of the study where Dr. Harlow and his colleagues discouraged the use of talc in the female genital area. The letter further stated that 14,000 women per year die from ovarian cancer and that this type of cancer is very difficult to detect and has a low survival rate. The letter concluded by requesting that Johnson & Johnson withdraw talc products from the market because of the alternative of cornstarch powders, or at a minimum, place warning information on its talc-based body powders about ovarian cancer risk they pose.
85. In 1996, the condom industry stopped dusting condoms with talc due to the health concerns of ovarian cancer.
86. In February of 2006, the International Association for the Research of Cancer (IARC) part of the World Health Organization published a paper whereby they classified perineal use of talc based body powder as a “Group 2B” human carcinogen. IARC which is universally accepted as the international authority on cancer issues, concluded that studies from around the world consistently found an increased risk of ovarian cancer in women from perineal use of talc. IARC found that between 16-52% of women in the world were using talc to dust their perineum and found an increased risk of ovarian cancer in women talc users ranging from 30-60%. IARC concluded with this “Evaluation”: “There is limited evidence in humans for the carcinogenicity of perineal use of talc-based body powder.” By definition “Limited evidence of carcinogenicity” means “a positive association has been observed between exposure to the agent and cancer for which a causal interpretation is considered by the Working Group to be credible, but chance, bias or confounding could not be ruled out with reasonable confidence.”
87. In approximately 2006, the Canadian government under The Hazardous Products Act and associated Controlled Products Regulations classified talc as a “D2A” , “very toxic”,
“cancer causing” substance under its Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS). Asbestos is also classified as “D2A”.
88. In 2006, Imerys Talc began placing a warning on its Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) it provided to the Johnson & Johnson Defendants regarding the talc it sold to them to be used in the PRODUCTS. These MSDSs not only provided the warning information about the IARC classification but also included warning information regarding “States Rights to Know” and warning information about the Canadian Government’s “D2A” classification of talc as well.
89. The Defendants had a duty to know and warn about the hazards associated with the use of the PRODUCTS.
90. The Defendants failed to inform its customers and end users of the PRODUCTS of a known catastrophic health hazard associated with the use of its products.
91. In addition, the Defendants procured and disseminated false, misleading, and biased information regarding the safety of the PRODUCTS to the public and used influence over governmental and regulatory bodies regarding talc.
92. As a direct and proximate result of the Defendants’ calculated and reprehensible conduct, Plaintiffs were injured and suffered damages, namely ovarian cancer, which required surgeries and treatments.