The dust has still not settled around the issue of talc — the mineral in talcum powder — causing cancer. Last week, a New Jersey jury ordered Johnson & Johnson (J&J) to pay out $750 million in punitive damages to four people who sued the company for getting cancer after using its baby powder.
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The judgment was later cut to $186.5M due to state law limitations. The plaintiffs were already awarded $37.2 million in compensation in an earlier phase of the trial.
The plaintiffs are among 16,000 people who have sued the company for marketing and distributing the household staple while allegedly being aware of its adverse health effects.
Since the 1970s, reports have shown the occurrence of asbestos in some talc-based products. Asbestos is a known carcinogen when inhaled and has been linked to mesothelioma.
According to a Reuters investigation published in 2018, the company neglected to reveal the discovery of small amounts of asbestos in its baby powder. In October 2019, a US Food and Drug Administration contractor found small amounts of asbestos in samples of Johnson’s baby powder forcing a recall of more than 30,000 bottles.
Baby powder is also linked to ovarian cancer as many use the powder to absorb moisture “down-there.” Doctors report a 33% increase in the risk of ovarian cancer with regular use.
The recent verdict follows a string of judgments against the company, including a record-breaking $417 million judgment in 2017. J&J appealed and got the verdict tossed because of conflicting evidence about the product’s cancer links, despite sufficient evidence that it failed to warn about the health risks of talc-based powder, shared a Los Angeles-based court.
J&J also plans on appealing this case.
Other verdicts against the company for ovarian and abestos-related cancers still stand, including a $4.69 billion verdict awarded by a Missouri jury in 2018 to be paid out to 22 women and their families; a $325 million verdict in New York; and a $10M California verdict against J&J and Colgate-Palmolive Co.