Unsealed court documents suggest that Johnson & Johnson’s talcum powders may contain asbestos fibers, a mineral well-known to cause mesothelioma. Now, patients who developed the deadly form of lung cancer are beginning to consider lawsuits.
- 5,000 talcum powder lawsuits filed
- Over $307 million in compensation awarded
- Time may be limited
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New courtroom revelations may have opened the massive talcum powder litigation to a new category of plaintiffs: people who have been diagnosed with mesothelioma and their families. Documents unsealed during court proceedings show that Johnson & Johnson talc products may contain trace amounts of asbestos, attorneys say, linking baby powder to the deadly mineral that causes mesothelioma.
Talcum Powder Lawsuits Link J&J Product To Cancer
Thousands of women have filed product liability lawsuits against Johnson & Johnson, accusing the health care giant of peddling talc-based body powders that cause ovarian cancer. This massive baby powder litigation has been going for over eight years, since Diane Berg, a woman who was diagnosed with Stage 3 ovarian cancer after using talcum powder for decades, filed the first claim against Johnson & Johnson in 2009.
The intervening years saw an explosion in product liability lawsuits, as around 5,000 cancer patients filed their own actions in state and federal courts across the country.
Patients Win Huge Jury Verdicts
The litigation has also seen enormous success for plaintiffs. In a Missouri state court, five talcum powder jury trials have already been held. Ovarian cancer patients have won four of them, being awarded a combined $307 million in compensation.
The first trial to be held in California, where around 300 talcum powder lawsuits are currently pending, resulted in a $417 million verdict for a single plaintiff in August of 2017.
Lawsuits: Talc May Be Contaminated With Asbestos
These high-profile court proceedings, however, have had an astonishing side effect. Evidence gathered during the course of litigation, according to a new report from Bloomberg, suggest that some of Johnson & Johnson’s main mineral suppliers may have provided the company with talc that is contaminated by asbestos.
The two minerals, talc and asbestos, are often found in close proximity to one another in the natural world. Exposure to asbestos, as the world now knows, causes mesothelioma, a rare and exceedingly-aggressive type of lung cancer. And as we’ve seen in recent years, thousands of baby powder lawsuits, along with over three decades of medical research, suggest that talc can increase the risk for ovarian cancer.
J&J Records Show Asbestos In Vermont Talc Mine
While Johnson & Johnson disputes this latter claim, saying the evidence for a link between talc and ovarian cancer is far from conclusive, there is no disputing the well-documented fact that asbestos is, and has always been, the leading cause of mesothelioma. But internal corporate memos, unsealed in the course of talcum powder lawsuits, show that Johnson & Johnson officials overseeing at least one talc mine in Vermont were aware in 1974 that the minerals being extracted also contained fibers of asbestos.
In May of that year, the Vermont mine’s director of research and development recommended using “citric acid in the depression of chrysotile asbestos,” the most common type of the deadly mineral. “The use of these systems is strongly urged,” the official wrote, “to provide protection against what are currently considered to be materials presenting a severe health hazard and are potentially present in all talc ores in use at this time.”
Mesothelioma Litigation Continues Today
The 1970s represented a water-shed moment in the history of asbestos. It was during this decade that the medical community finally confirmed the mineral’s causal link to mesothelioma, spurring a wave of litigation that continues today.
Workers and home owners who had been unwittingly exposed to asbestos for decades took on the country’s largest asbestos mines, along with companies that used the mineral heavily, putting many of them out of business. As unsealed court documents suggest, it seems that officials at Johnson & Johnson were well aware of asbestos’ extraordinary health risks.
It also appears that company officers also knew that at least one of their mines was still producing talc contaminated by asbestos. It is strange, then, to note that safety tests conducted by Johnson & Johnson have found no trace of asbestos in the company’s talc supplies since at least 1972. Like the Vermont memo, the company also disclosed these test results during the course of litigation.
“No Trace Of Asbestos”?
Several attorneys have pointed to an apparent contradiction between these two disclosures. The tests for asbestos beginning in 1972 show no trace of the dangerous mineral in Johnson & Johnson’s talc. Two years later, an official at a Vermont mine advises workers to make an effort to eliminate the asbestos fibers found in their talc.
Other unsealed corporate documents are even more damning, attorneys say. In a 1973 report about the Vermont mine “noted that officials were working with federal officials to check for fibers that could indicate the presence of asbestos at the site,” Bloomberg reports.
This second memo, written by a Johnson & Johnson employee, admits that the company’s talcum powders “contain[…] talc fragments classifiable as fiber. Occasionally sub-trace quantities of [asbestos] are identifiable and these might be classified as asbestos fiber.”
Attorneys Say J&J Concealed Asbestos Content
Another apparent contradiction, plaintiffs’ lawyers argue. Traces of asbestos had been identified in talc mined from a Johnson & Johnson-operated mine in Vermont. Company officials were working with federal regulators to solve the problem.
One corporate representative even suggested switching to corn starch, a material that many baby powder manufacturers began to use in place of talc after the mineral’s link to asbestos was discovered. But consider an undated training memo, intended for Johnson & Johnson employees, that advised workers to reassure concerned consumers and medical professionals that asbestos “has never been found” in the company’s talcum powder “and it never will.”
As plaintiffs have alleged in recent lawsuits, taken together, these internal memos appear to show that Johnson & Johnson concealed the asbestos content of its talcum powder from the public. The company told the world that talcum powder was safe. Conversations inside the corporation, as evidenced by these new documents, seem to contradict that story.
J&J Rewrote Italian Mine’s Asbestos Admission
Another new wrinkle comes to us from Italy, where the Val Chisone talc mine continues to operate. Just outside Turin, owners at Val Chisone discovered around 1974 that the mine’s talc contained trace amounts of asbestos. At least, that was the message circulated in a marketing pamphlet produced by Val Chisone that year.
Labeling the mine’s booklet as a “business threat,” a Johnson & Johnson researcher worried that Val Chisone’s public declaration about asbestos could “raise doubts on the validity of the documentation of purity and safety of talc.” Note, before we move on, that the employee was concerned with “documentation” of the talc’s safety, rather than its actual safety.
In any event, the researcher was able to convince Val Chisone to remove English language versions of the pamphlet from circulation, so that Johnson & Johnson could reword it.
“False, Misleading & Biased”
In light of these revelations, plaintiffs’ attorneys have gained a new weapon in their fight for ovarian cancer patients. A recent lawsuit filed on behalf of dozens of women in St. Louis claims that Johnson & Johnson
“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 contaminated with asbestos, asbestiform fibers, and other harmful constituents.”
The talc’s alleged asbestos content, combined with the potential effects of talc, significantly increased the risk that these women would develop ovarian cancer, the lawsuit says.
Can Mesothelioma Patients File Talc Lawsuits?
But the alleged asbestos content in talcum powder may have also opened the litigation up to a new class of plaintiffs: mesothelioma patients.
Asbestos causes mesothelioma; this is an accepted scientific fact. And if some talcum powder products contain even trace amounts of asbestos fibers, their use may increase the risk of developing the devastating cancer. Attorneys are currently investigating potential claims involving people who developed mesothelioma after being exposed to large amounts of airborne talcum powder, including barbers and people who frequent barbershops.
Consumers who frequently use cosmetics are being considered, too. Concerns have also been raised around babies, who are often exposed to talcum powder in large amounts and could inhale the particles easily.
Latency Period Affects Date Of Diagnosis
Mesothelioma has an extremely long “latency period.” While exposure to asbestos causes the disease, it can take decades for the symptoms of mesothelioma to appear. Some people who were exposed to asbestos thirty years ago in the shipping industry are just being diagnosed with mesothelioma today. A similar pattern, attorneys believe, could play out for children and consumers who were exposed to large amounts of talcum powder years ago.
Learn More About Pursuing Compensation
Were you or a loved one diagnosed with mesothelioma after long-term exposure to talcum powder? Our experienced product liability attorneys can help. Contact us today to receive a free consultation and learn more about your legal options at no charge and no obligation.