The Talcum Powder Lawsuit: Links to Asbestos, Cancer Lead to Big Verdicts

Oct 30, 2018 | Product Liability

The raging controversy over possible health risks associated with talcum powder use just keeps getting hotter. Thousands of lawsuits have been filed on behalf of people who claim that they developed cancer because of exposure to talc products, resulting in billions of dollars in jury verdicts in just the last few months. The manufacturers of talc products deny any wrongdoing and are appealing many of the verdicts, but many more cases are headed for trial.


Talc is a naturally occurring mineral, composed primarily of silicon, magnesium, and oxygen. Ground into powder, it’s long been used externally to absorb moisture and prevent rashes. For generations, products such as Johnson & Johnson’s Baby Powder have been marketed to Americans as an essential hygiene item, gentle enough for infants and a bit of pampering for adults, too.

But the extremely fine particles in talc can also migrate to places they aren’t supposed to go, through inhalation or other means. Several research studies indicate that women who apply talc on a regular basis to their genital area may be at higher risk of developing ovarian cancer, as the particles travel through the vagina, uterus and fallopian tubes to the ovaries; in reports dating back to the early 1970s, talc particles have been found in some ovarian tumors.

Other studies have disputed those claims. The American Cancer Society notes that the scientific findings regarding a cause-effect relationship between talc and ovarian cancer has been mixed, “with some studies reporting a slightly increased risk and some reporting no risk.” The Food and Drug Administration has rejected efforts to require a warning label on talcum powder but is still researching the issue. Meanwhile, the International Agency for Research on Cancer, an agency of the World Health Organization, has concluded that perineal use of talc-based body powder is “possibly carcinogenic,” while the National Cancer Institute, which once adopted a similar view, has recently retreated from that position, saying a link has yet to be proven.

The controversy over talc has become more heated as additional claims have emerged, challenging the purity of the product. Talc and asbestos often occur naturally in close proximity to each other, a situation that requires close monitoring and testing of the talc mined for cosmetic purposes. Johnson & Johnson has been testing its sources of supply since at least the early 1970s and maintains that its products are free of any traces of asbestos. But plaintiff attorneys say that internal documents obtained in talc lawsuits indicate that the company has known for decades that its talc products include asbestos fibers.


There are now more than 9000 lawsuits pending from women who believe they developed ovarian cancer from talc products. Johnson & Johnson has been found liable by a jury in several of the cases involving its products that have actually gone to trial so far, but at least two of those verdicts have been overturned by judges, including a $417 million award last fall to a terminally ill woman in California who had used J & J talc products for decades.

Last spring a New Jersey jury returned a $117 million verdict against J & J and a talc supplier. Plaintiff Stephen Lanzo III and his wife claimed that he had contracted mesothelioma, a type of cancer caused primarily by asbestos exposure, as a result of using talc products over a period of 30 years. The jury awarded compensatory and punitive damages, ascribing 70 percent of the liability to Johnson & Johnson and 30 percent to the supplier, Imerys Talc America Inc.

Possible links between asbestos and ovarian cancer also played a role in the massive $4.69 billion verdict recently awarded by a Missouri jury, in favor of 22 women who claimed that the J&J powder led to their ovarian cancer. Six of the plaintiffs are now deceased. Johnson & Johnson has indicated that the company will appeal the judgment. Other cases are pending in multidistrict litigation in New Jersey, Missouri, and California.


A few weeks earlier, another talc supplier, Vanderbilt Minerals, reached a confidential settlement with a former tile worker who developed mesothelioma after working with the company’s talc products. (Many of the mesothelioma claims that have been filed are based on exposure to industrial talc products.)

As the legal and scientific scrutiny of talc products continues, consumers who rely on a daily talc routine may want to consider possible substitutes, such as a cornstarch-based product.


If you have suffered injuries from a dangerous drug or the failure of a defective medical device, you may be entitled to compensation. The product liability attorneys at Franklin D. Azar & Associates can help answer your questions concerning several devices associated with recalls, adverse events, or possibly inadequate warnings issued to doctors and patients, including the talcum powder lawsuit, Attune Knee Systems, St. Jude Defibrillators, and the blood thinners Xarelto, Eliquis and Pradaxa. Contact us for a free, no-obligation consultation.