In recent years a whopping 6,600 lawsuits have been filed against Johnson and Johnson and other pharmaceutical companies for allowing hundreds and perhaps thousands of women to contract ovarian cancer through the use of their talcum powder products that contained dangerous levels of asbestos.
Thus far, the companies — which also include giants like Colgate Palmolive — have been forced to pay over $5 billion in legal settlements with plaintiffs after it was revealed that they knew as early as 1971-1972 that their products might cause ovarian cancer in women as well as a rare type of lung cancer found in men and women alike.
Women were especially at risk because they typically used products like Johnson & Johnson’s Baby Powder for feminine hygiene purposes. Research has shown conclusively that asbestos in talcum powder can migrate from a woman’s genital area to her ovaries, causing inflammation that increases her risk for ovarian cancer.
In fact, women who use talcum products for a regular period are 30%-60% more likely to contract ovarian cancer, studies show. That level of exposure is thought to cause as many 10,000 new ovarian cancer cases per year.
Johnson & Johnson’s Baby Powder has been on the market for decades. It was first introduced in 1894 as a means of preventing and treating diaper rash. However, in recent years the company has promoted the product primarily for adult use.
Today about 70% of Baby Powder consumers are adults that use it to stay dry and comfortable during hot summer months or to prevent or relieve rashes of their own.
In fact, surveys show that between 40-50% of all American women have applied Baby Powder to their genital area, meaning the potential risk – and the number of prospective litigants — is enormous.
As early as the 1980s, doctors began warning that talc products might be unsafe. Johnson & Johnson has consistently rebuffed these claims.
Some of the scientific research studies are inclusive, in part due to limitations in their methodology. A clear and conclusive link between talcum powder use and ovarian cancer in specific cases is still difficult to prove
Faced with these limitations, plaintiffs in cases against companies like Johnson & Johnson have not tried to prove that Baby Powder actually caused their ovarian cancer. Instead, they have presented evidence the product contained unacceptably high-levels of asbestos, despite company claims that they were successfully monitoring the product for the dangerous substance.
Faced with overwhelming evidence of their neglect and fearful of the publicity fallout from extended litigation, companies like Johnson & Johnson have frequently chosen to settle
To date, the single largest judgment was in July 2018 when 22 women received a $4.7 billion monetary award. More recent cases have resulted in settlements between 100 and 200 million dollars.
These sums, while sizable, are modest compared to the mega-profits companies like Johnson & Johnson have earned from decades of robust sales of their talcum products.
It’s not clear if ovarian cancer remains a major threat from Johnson & Johnson Baby Powder. Some recent versions of the product are based not on talc but in corn starch, which is considered much safer.
However, companies like Johnson & Johnson are still liable for damages to women that may have occurred in past years when the talc-based version of the product reigned supreme.
In recent months, a number of law firms have launched a nationwide publicity campaign – including lengthy segments on cable TV — to attract possible litigants in future lawsuits against these same companies.
Claims are not limited to asbestos and ovarian cancer. Some litigants are also claiming that talcum powder dust inhaled by consumers may have caused mesothelioma, a rare and deadly form of lung cancer that afflicts some 3,000 people annually.
Ovarian cancer is far more common – about 22,000 cases annually. In recent years, the number of women diagnosed with the disease has declined steadily. However, the survival rate for ovarian cancer remains relatively low – just 47%, unless detected early.
If current estimates are accurate, it could that a large percentage of these new cancer cases – as well as deaths – were caused by women’s widespread daily use of a product with a kid-friendly image that many had wrongly assumed was perfectly safe.
For more information about whether you might have been exposed to an ovarian cancer risk and to inquire about joining a future class action lawsuit, contact the law firm of John Foy & Associates at 404-400-4000.