Johnson & Johnson Presents “4 Important Facts About the Safety of Talc” – But Are They Really Factual?
As the number of lawsuits over talc-containing Baby Powder continues to grow, manufacturer Johnson & Johnson – once “The Most Trusted Brand in America” – has been fighting back in order to convince the public of the safety of their product. To that end, the J&J corporate website now has a page on “4 Important Facts About the Safety of Talc.” But is the information accurate? What are the facts?
Number One on the list addresses an early concern about talc. Many years ago, talc products also contained asbestos, a mineral that is known to cause cancer and lung diseases – and was the cause of action in massive litigation during the last years of the 20th Century through the first decade of the 21st.
It is true that talc deposits are found near asbestos, and sometimes, asbestos gets mingled with talc as a result. The J&J web page points out that for the past forty years, cosmetic-grade talc is required by law to be free of asbestos. It states that “the company’s sources for talc are routinely evaluated using a sophisticated battery of tests designed to ensure compliance.”
No tests are foolproof, however. Furthermore, while most U.S. sourced talc is free of asbestos, talc from other countries, such as China, may not be. J&J obtains its talc from Imerys Talc America, and while Imerys was a co-defendant in one of the talcum powder trials, there is no evidence that talc obtained from Imerys contained asbestos. However, that is not the point; plaintiffs agree that J&J talc is asbestos-free. The cause of action in these lawsuits is the talc itself, and whether or not talc in itself is carcinogenic.
That brings us to the second fact: “The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which identifies potential risk factors for many diseases, has not identified talc as a risk factor for ovarian cancer.” This is true: the CDC makes no such claim. However, the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer has classified genital talc as “possibly carcinogenic” since 2006. Furthermore, a research study published in the journal Epidemiology in May of 2016 showed that women who use talc in their underwear run a 33% greater risk of developing ovarian cancer.
In an attempt to refute this study, J&J references two earlier studies – one by the Harvard School of Public Health (2009) and the other by the U.S. National Institutes of Health (2014) that “found no association between talc and ovarian cancer.” Studies in this area, using human subjects as well as laboratory animals, have admittedly come up with mixed results. Nonetheless, based on all available research to date, the American Cancer Society has concluded that talc is associated with an elevated risk of ovarian cancer.
For its fourth point, J&J points out an “extensive review of all data on talc safety” from the Cosmetic Ingredient Review Expert Panel, published in 2013. The conclusion: “talc is safe in present practices of use and concentration described in this safety assessment.” However, page 17 of the report acknowledges that “Talc particles were found in approximately 75% of the ovarian tumors and 50% of the cervical tumors” during examinations.
It appears that, while J&J is offering essentially truthful information on its website, the information presented does not tell the entire story – and based on the number of verdicts in favor of plaintiffs in talcum powder lawsuits thus far, juries are finding that there is more to the issue than the defendant is prepared to admit.