The final numbers are in and the New Jersey mesothelioma patient who was awarded $30 million dollars last week will get another $80 million in punitive damages from Johnson & Johnson and its talc supplier.
Banker Stephen Lanzo and his wife filed suit against the two companies claiming that Mr. Lanzo’s use of Johnson & Johnson talcum powder products caused his pleural mesothelioma, a fast-growing cancer on the membrane around the lungs.
The case represents the first time that a man has won a lawsuit alleging a connection between talcum powder and malignant mesothelioma, and raises serious safety concerns for consumers.
Johnson & Johnson and other talcum powder producers have already been brought to court by women who claim their products caused them to contract ovarian cancer.
Asbestos, Mesothelioma, and Baby Powder
The issue is whether or not there were asbestos fibers, the primary cause of malignant mesothelioma, in Mr. Lanzo’s talcum powder products and whether Johnson & Johnson was hiding that fact.
Talc and asbestos deposits are frequently found in close proximity to each other and some studies have found that there is a chance of asbestos contamination during talc mining.
Johnson & Johnson maintains that its products are rigorously tested and are asbestos-free. But the jury disagreed, awarding $30 million to Lanzo and $7 million to his wife last week and the additional $80 million this week as punishment against Johnson & Johnson for not disclosing the mesothelioma risk.
Can Talcum Powder Be Used Safely?
Unfortunately, there is probably no way to safely use talcum powder products. If even a few fibers of asbestos make their way into the talc and are accidentally inhaled, there is a risk that the user could develop malignant mesothelioma even decades later.
Unlike other types of contaminants, sharp asbestos fibers tend to stay in the body permanently, gradually working their way deeper into the tissues. Over time, this lingering toxin can turn healthy cells into mesothelioma cells.
The Food & Drug Administration (FDA), the entity charged with ensuring that consumer products do not contain mesothelioma-causing asbestos, commissioned a laboratory analysis of cosmetic-grade talc in 2008. Although nine talc suppliers were asked to submit product samples for testing, only four of them complied. A total of thirty-four personal care products were tested and all of them were free of asbestos.
The FDA concluded that, while the results of the analysis were “informative”, “they do not prove that most or all talc or talc-containing cosmetic products currently marketed in the United States are likely to be free of asbestos contamination.”
Beyond that, there is some evidence that talc itself may be harmful if inhaled, although it is not currently classified as a carcinogen. The American Cancer Society advises, “Until more information is available, people concerned about using talcum powder may want to avoid or limit their use of consumer products that contain it.”
In addition to dusting powders, talc can be found in blush, eye shadow, foundations, and face powder, as well as in some consumable products like rice and chewing gum. The accessories company Claire’s has been forced to pull several talc-containing cosmetic products off the shelves in the past year because of asbestos concerns.
“Man wins $117 million after getting cancer ‘from baby powder’”, April 12, 2018, Yahoo News
Talcum Powder and Cancer, American Cancer Society
Talc Fact Sheet, US Food & Drug Administration