By Linda N. Special to CAW
In 2021, women’s roles and contributions are even more critical in working through and pulling out of the COVID-19 pandemic. Women are sacrificing their health, career, persons to support family, society, and country. Some are taking up additional roles to meet the demands created by the pandemic, often leaving them feeling exhausted and in need of some care. Women are not new to making sacrifices. However, it becomes unbearable when they face health challenges arising from the use of products acclaimed to be safe for their delicate bodies. This issue is one of the bases for an argument on the varying lawsuits against manufacturers of talcum powder, a line of products that promoted as safe by Johnson and Johnson in particular, and other manufacturers like Colgate -Palmolive.
Johnson and Johnson, to date, is facing over 21,500 lawsuits from consumers that claim its talc products, specifically talcum powder, caused them ovarian cancer. Deane Berg, in 2009, filed the first lawsuit against the health product manufacturing giant after her 2006 ovarian cancer diagnosis. Despite the defendant’s denials over the years, the case has made progress. For instance, they have made private settlements worth millions of dollars to several plaintiffs, including Deane Berg. He offered a confidential settlement of over $1 million and other paid settlements as instructed through verdicts. According to an article in the New York Times, in 2019, they recalled some of their Baby Powder when the authorizing body found traces of the cancer-causing agent (asbestos) in the product and have announced the withdrawal of the sale (2020) of their line of Baby Powder from North America. However, they continue to sell the product in other parts of the world.
In February 2021, the health care giant announced that it had set aside over $3.5 billion as settlement reserves against any talc lawsuit.
Talc and its Usage
Talc is a naturally occurring mineral mined from the earth. It has many uses in cosmetics and other personal care products. Did you know that beyond the production of talcum powder, the naturally occurring substance talc is also used to manufacture and produce various industrial and household items such as ceramics, paper, and beauty products, dating to Egyptian times? In finely ground form, Talc finds use as a cosmetic, lubricant, paper fillers. Amongst several other items. Professions like sports, designers, metalwork, and pharmaceutical and food technology use talc, for instance, in the making of ingestible like pharmaceutical tablets, candy, and chewing gum(it’s the white coating on some chewing gum and candy products for the prevention of wrap stickiness).
Using talc in powder production, many would wonder if talc existed for such a long time and vastly used, including baby powder production. It claims that it prevents diaper rash (although not recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics because of its danger to respiration). Why does the talc found in powder acclaimed to cause ovarian cancer? According to the American Cancer Society experts, only contaminated talc, which can occur during the extraction of the talc mineral, and contact through inhaling or intimate use leading to cancer. It is worth noting that there is a difference between talc with asbestos and asbestos-free talc. Both substances (talc and asbestos) are naturally occurring minerals, are found in the distance from each other during mining. However, asbestos is a known cancer-causing agent (a carcinogen) that causes mesothelioma when inhaled. There is a high possibility of talc contamination with asbestos during extraction, requiring rigorous testing in selecting talc mining sites. Curiously, insufficient evidence exists about asbestos-free talc and cancer.
In 1958, asbestos became linked to ovarian cancer. The investigation didn’t start until 1970, when according to reports on the U.S Food and Drug Administration, investigations commenced into the controversial view of the link between talc and ovarian cancer. However, it has remained non-conclusive owing to the inability to substantiate the hypothesis through studies. Progressively, since 2020, the FDA opened a platform for gathering additional evidence in the form of scientific data and information in addition to initiating public meetings related to talc-based cosmetic products, potentially harmful mineral contaminants, and some asbestos in products. According to the FDA website, the focus is to test methods, define terms and gather criteria for the standardization and methodology for testing of asbestos in cosmetic products containing talc.
To protect consumers, in 1976, the body that covers cosmetics, toiletries, and fragrances (CTFA) introduced suggestions on standards for ensuring that all talc-based cosmetic products remain free from any detectable amounts of asbestos.
As well, researchers have tried to investigate whether it is exposure or a substance that causes cancer. Unfortunately, neither has proved holistically accurate. According to the American Cancer Society, studies have suggested that there is a possibility of cancer causality in the ovaries through talcum powder use: when the powder particles are used on diaphragms, condom, sanitary napkins or applied to the genital area traveled through feminine body parts like the vagina, through to the ovary. However, there remain mixed findings, ranging from high to no increase in risk. In the case of lung cancer, the report didn’t find any increased risk from the use of cosmetic talcum powder.
Court cases against Johnson and Johnson Talcum Powder
During the lawsuit hearings, and according to a (Reuters) investigative report, lawyers to the plaintiffs revealed that internal memos and reports indicated that Johnson & Johnson was knowledgeable and nursed concerns about the traces of asbestos in its talc for over half a century.
Despite this knowledge and concern, they marketed the product as a safe feminine product during the period. In a 2017 article by the Los Angeles Times, there was a lawsuit between Johnson and Johnson and Eva Echeverria, which totaled $417 million in compensation and punitive damages, with $70 million to the plaintiff. The defendant’s lawyers argued against the ruling claiming there is no connection. Now, the FDA has returned to investigating the issue, which Daniel W. Cramer 1982’s study used during the lawsuit showed that women who used talc on their genitals had more than 90% increased risk for ovarian ranks, eighth most common cancer. According to the report, patients with ovarian cancer makeup over 1.2% and cause cancer-related deaths after diagnosis among women in the U.S. There is hope for compensation for the negligence. However, until more information is available and final guidelines are enforced, concerned consumers should consider avoiding the use of talcum powder or limit the use of talc-based products.