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For generations, talcum powder (often called simply “talc”) has been known for its ability to absorb moisture and prevent rashes. It was a common sight in bathrooms across the United States—most often used by mothers to prevent diaper rash on newborn babies. However, in recent years, talc powders from well-known brands like Johnson’s Baby Powder, Old Spice, and Coco Chanel have come under scrutiny for containing asbestos, an extremely hazardous mineral known to cause mesothelioma, a terminal lung cancer.
The problems these talc companies are facing are not limited merely to public disdain or regulatory pressure. They are facing a variety of mesothelioma-related lawsuits due to the asbestos content in their talc products. In fact, just in the past couple of years, some really big verdicts have come down against these companies, and there are plenty of cases still in the works.
Talc and Asbestos Lawsuits
Within the last year, the family of a 76-year-old Long Island woman, who died from mesothelioma due to decades of asbestos exposure, won a $7 million award against Whitaker Clark and Daniels, a talcum distributor. The lawsuit alleged that during the 1960s and 70s, Whitaker Clark and Daniels sent talc shipments contaminated with asbestos to companies for use in their talc products. This landmark case is only one of a growing number of legal proceedings against companies and distributors who failed to remove asbestos from their talcum products and, therefore, ultimately contributed to victims being diagnosed with mesothelioma.
Similarly, a lawsuit filed in California last year resulted in a $13 million award to Judith and John Winkel; Mrs. Winkel was diagnosed with mesothelioma resulting from her exposure to talc products, specifically Cashmere Bouquet. The company at fault, Colgate-Palmolive, was apportioned 95% liability for its role in the design, manufacture, or sale of Cashmere Bouquet talcum powder. According to the evidence, Colgate was found negligent for, amongst other findings, the design of a defective product; presenting to the end-consumer an unidentifiable risk; and failure to warn of a foreseeable and substantial danger.
Cases such as these are not novel, however, increased public and federal scrutiny of talcum powder has contributed to a greater scrutiny being given to these products. A recent study, published in the International Journal of Occupational and Environmental Health, pointed out one particular brand of cosmetic talcum powder tested contained both anthophyllite and tremolite asbestos, extremely hazardous forms of asbestos fibers.
The study also suggested, through testing, that inhalable asbestos fibers were likely released through the application of talcum powder. “Through many applications,” the study’s authors wrote, “the deceased inhaled asbestos fibers, which then accumulated in [the] lungs and likely caused or contributed to [the diagnosis of] mesothelioma as well as [others] with the same scenario.” Given such a causal link between asbestos exposure from talc and the later development of mesothelioma, juries are less willing to allow talc companies to escape liability and culpability.
Mesothelioma, Women, and Talc
Historically, more men are diagnosed with mesothelioma because of work and occupational exposures to asbestos. However, women do not escape this illness; wives, daughters, and mothers may develop mesothelioma as a result of secondary/household sources (i.e. shaking dust-laden clothing while doing laundry, releasing the dangerous asbestos fibers into the air). As it relates now to talcum powder, women who used talcum powder are also now at risk for the development of mesothelioma.
Today, talc powder in the United States is alleged to be asbestos-free, based on regulations that have been in place since the 1970s. A 2008 study by the FDA showed no asbestos content in any of the talc-based products reviewed. Nonetheless, given that the latency period for asbestos exposure can be from 10 – 40 years, there are still people in danger of developing mesothelioma from talc-contaminated with asbestos from decades past.
In recent years, talcum powder has also been linked to ovarian and uterine cancers; however, there is no consensus within the scientific community about whether talc in fact causes these other types of cancer.