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A History of Talcum Powder

On Behalf of | Jul 21, 2016 | Product Liability

Over the past year, two different juries have awarded compensatory as well as punitive damages to plaintiffs who filed talcum powder lawsuits against Johnson & Johnson. More than 1,000 additional lawsuits have been filed against Johnson & Johnson claiming that the manufacturer knew of the link between the product’s use and the development of ovarian cancer, yet failed to warn consumers.

The cosmetic use of talcum based Baby Powder began in the early 1900’s, when Johnson & Johnson began marketing the product to women and young children. From this point forward, the manufacturer developed the Baby Powder brand by appealing primarily to women through multimedia advertisements. Now, Johnson & Johnson’s reported average revenue derived from the sale of talcum powder products exceeds $300 million per year.

Yet, researchers indicated the risk of using talc particles around the female genital area through various studies published as early as the 1970’s. This initial research suggested that talc particles entered a woman’s reproductive system through the vaginal opening, migrating into the cervix and the uterus, and moving through the fallopian tubes to the ovaries. While conducting the study, scientists found talc particles embedded in a significant number of the ovarian tumors that were tested.

In 1982, Daniel Cramer, a Harvard University professor and doctor at Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital, published a study which claimed that women who reported the use of talc around the genital area were three times as likely to develop ovarian cancer. Since this research was published, several additional studies have also identified a significant increase in risk (nearly 33%) for ovarian cancer occurrence among regular talcum powder users. Despite the number of different studies that suggest the link, Johnson & Johnson continues to deny that the findings are based on consistent and reliable data, and thus has not included the risk on a warning label for its talc based products.

Plaintiffs’ attorneys in the recent lawsuits against Johnson & Johnson have cited an internal company memo that dates back to 1992, in attempt to show that the company was aware of the potential risks that talcum powder posed to female consumers. While this memo depicts the “negative publicity from the health community on talc (inhalation, dust, negative doctor endorsement, cancer linkage)” as a major obstacle for the company, it also describes the growth opportunities that existed within the Hispanic and African American communities.

Five years later, Alfred Wehner, a toxicologist and consultant retained by Johnson & Johnson, sent a letter to the company’s manager of preclinical toxicology, Michael Chudkowski. In this correspondence, Wehner—who was hired to advise the company on the ovarian cancer research—responds critically to various statements sent by Chudkowski. Wehner writes:

“The response statement dated November 17, 1994, is just as bad. The second sentence in the third paragraph reads: ‘The workshop concluded that, although some of these studies suggested a weak association might exist, when taken together the results of the studies are insufficient to demonstrate any real association.’”

Wehner then states:

“This statement is also inaccurate, to phrase it euphemistically. At that time there had been about 9 studies (more by now) published in the open literature that did show a statistically significant association between hygienic talc use and ovarian cancer. Anybody who denies this risks that the talc industry will be perceived by the public like it perceives the cigarette industry; denying the obvious in the face of all evidence to the contrary.”

This year two different juries awarded more than $120 million dollars in compensatory and punitive damages to plaintiffs who claimed that the long-term, regular use of Johnson & Johnson’s talcum powder or other talc based products contributed to the development of aggressive ovarian cancer. Juries in these cases ruled that the manufacturer was liable for negligence, conspiracy, and failure to warn consumers of the risks.

The Law Offices of Peter Angelos is reviewing claims that talcum powder–including Baby Powder and Shower to Shower–has contributed to the development of ovarian cancer. If you or a loved one was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, and previously used talcum powder on or near the genital area, contact our lawyers for a no cost consultation.

For additional information on the health effects of talc based products and the ongoing talcum powder lawsuits see here: