California Court Allows Talcum Powder Mesothelioma Case to Move Forward

Illustration of legal cases for asbestos and mesothelioma

Late last week, a California State appeals court ruled that Mary Lyons, a 70-year-old mesothelioma survivor, can move forward in her talcum powder lawsuit against Colgate-Palmolive for selling asbestos-contaminated talcum powder products that may have contributed to her disease.

Diagnosed in October 2015, the suit brought by Lyons alleges that her daily use of Cashmere Bouquet body powder over the course of two decades is at least partly responsible for her mesothelioma diagnosis.

Talc has been used as a cosmetic powder and for other purposes for centuries. While it is generally considered safe, because talc is often found naturally alongside asbestos deposits, asbestos contamination in talcum powder has been a problem faced by many makers of talcum powder products, including Colgate-Palmolive, Johnson & Johnson, and Whittaker, Clark & Daniels.

Today, industry guidelines require talcum powder products to undergo a strict filtering process to remove impurities like asbestos. In 2010, the FDA published the results of an analytical survey in which the agency determined that a sampling of 34 cosmetics products containing talc were not contaminated by asbestos.

Nonetheless, asbestos and other dangerous substances still find their way into consumer products despite claims by company officials that their products are safe for everyday use. Earlier this year, the children’s clothing and accessories retailer Justice found itself in the midst of a scandal when asbestos was found in eye makeup sold at the company’s stores. Previously, asbestos has also been found in crayons and talc-based “fingerprint powders” used in toy crime scene investigator kits.

Even if today’s standards for purifying talcum powder are able to prevent most asbestos from getting through to consumers, that was not always the case. Lyons claimed that her use of talcum powder from the 1950s through the early 1970s was during a period when there was no widespread concern about the risk of asbestos in talc or even the long-term effects of asbestos itself.

Exposure to asbestos 40 or 50 years ago at a young age is certainly within the long period of time it often takes for the cancer to develop. As further evidence for the role of asbestos-contaminated talc in Lyon’s diagnosis, a mineralogist who testified on her behalf said that he had found asbestos in samples taken from mines in Montana, North Carolina, and Italy that had all supplied Colgate-Palmolive with talc for its cosmetic products.

Although the case had previously been dismissed by a lower court, the court of appeals in San Francisco overturned that decision, allowing Lyons to move forward. Based on the evidence, the appeals court decision said, it is possible that jurors could determine “all or most of the Cashmere Bouquet” used by Lyons over a 20-year period contained asbestos which contributed to her mesothelioma.