For over 100 years, no product was arguably more associated with Johnson & Johnson’s wholesome image than this powder, promoted as gentle enough for babies. But beneath the marketing was a hazardous reality for end users of J&J’s talc – namely, it was contaminated with cancer-causing asbestos.
Talc is a mineral known for its softness. Underground, talc seams can be intermingled with asbestos, leading to contamination of the talcum powder. Internal J&J memos and reports revealed the company had been concerned for at least 50 years about the possibility of traces of asbestos in its talc. Asbestos was first linked to ovarian cancer in 1958. And consumer advocates first raised concerns talc contained traces of asbestos in the 1980s, prompting J& J to develop a cornstarch alternative. But it continued to sell and market the talc-based product as being safe for daily use until this month.
Currently, J&J faces about 19,400 cases alleging its talcum powder caused users to develop ovarian cancer or mesothelioma, a cancer that strikes the lining of the lungs and other organs. J&J’s trial record thus far is 12 wins and 15 losses, including a $4.7 billion verdict for 22 women, with seven mistrials. All of the losses have been appealed or overturned and J&J contends it will continue to vigorously defend the pending lawsuits.
In terms of ceasing North American sales of its talc-based baby powder, J&J has said it would allow existing bottles to be sold by retailers until they ran out. J&J also announced it will continue to sell its cornstarch version of the product domestically and its talc-based baby powder in other parts of the world.