The safety of talc powder, a primary ingredient in powders and cosmetics, has been a controversial topic for decades. Leading manufacturers of the powder continue to battle lawsuits alleging that talc use can lead to serious disease and death. Now a trial in New Jersey is set to begin to determine whether Johnson & Johnson’s baby powder is linked to the development of mesothelioma, a rare and aggressive form of cancer that is almost exclusively related to asbestos exposure. Two months ago a court in California ruled that the use of Johnson & Johnson’s baby powder did not contribute to the plaintiff’s diagnosis of mesothelioma.
In the 1970s, evidence began to suggest that a connection exists between talc powder and mesothelioma. Talc and asbestos are mined from the same geological formations and talc was often recovered from mines that contained asbestos. Researchers conducted samples of talc powder and found asbestos in several of the samples in the late 1970s. The study did not specifically detect asbestos in talc powder in Johnson & Johnson products. Asbestos typically does not develop for decades after exposure so people who used talc powder in the 1960s and 1970s may not develop symptoms until 30 years later.
In the current trial, the plaintiff, a resident of Verona, New Jersey, alleges that Johnson & Johnson was aware that traces of asbestos were present in its baby powder and failed to issue warnings to consumers about the risks of asbestos exposure. The plaintiff was diagnosed with mesothelioma years after using the baby powder. Johnson & Johnson continues to maintain that its baby powder does not contain asbestos and that the plaintiff could have been exposed to asbestos from a variety of other sources, including the home he was raised in and the schools he attended as a child and teenager.
Notwithstanding the controversial connection between talc and mesothelioma, a number of plaintiffs have won significant awards from various companies that manufactured products containing talc. In 2015, a California woman recovered $13 million in an action against Colgate-Palmolive in which she alleged that she was diagnosed with mesothelioma as a result of her use of Cashmere Bouquet talc powder, manufactured by Colgate-Palmolive. Similarly, another court in California ruled that a plaintiff who used talc powder manufactured by Whittaker, Clark & Daniels was entitled to $18 million for damages resulting from his mesothelioma diagnosis.
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