Asbestos in Talc: History and Developments

Get background details on links between asbestos, talc, and cancer, and the latest updates for 2022 on lawsuits over the safety of Johnson's Baby Powder and other talcum powder products.

Updated by , J.D.

Talc is a natural-occurring substance found in many products, such as baby powder and cosmetics, but the potential for asbestos contamination in talc has raised some red flags:

  • A number of studies and thousands of lawsuits allege a connection between talcum powder and certain forms of cancer.
  • Lawsuits linking Johnson's Baby Powder to ovarian cancer and mesothelioma have prompted Johnson & Johnson to pull its popular product from stores, and have spurred the company to adopt a controversial bankruptcy strategy.
  • If you're thinking about filing a lawsuit over the safety of a talcum powder product, a clear diagnosis of a health problem is essential, as is the help of a skilled lawyer.

How Does Asbestos Get Into Talcum Powder and Baby Powder?

When talc occurs in nature, it's often found close to naturally-occurring asbestos. This means that freshly-mined talc will sometimes already contain asbestos as a natural part of gathering the raw material, and this asbestos-contaminated talc sometimes finds its way into makeup and baby powder.

Is All Talc Contaminated With Asbestos?

No, but without individual testing of every talc-based consumer product on the market, there's no definitive way to know when or where asbestos might have found its way into a specific batch or lot of a certain product. Unlike with medications and certain other health products, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn't approve cosmetic products like talcum powder before they go on the market. And while the FDA will take action (including testing) if there is a potential safety problem with a cosmetic product, there needs to be sufficient scientific data pointing to a health risk.

The FDA acknowledges the "potential for contamination of talc with asbestos" and the importance of careful selection of talc mining sites and sufficient testing of ore. It would seem that the onus is on manufacturers to insure the integrity and safety of talc sources in their supply chains.

In late 2019, the FDA alerted consumers that a sample from a single lot of Johnson's® Baby Powder had revealed the presence of asbestos. The FDA also announced a voluntary recall by Johnson & Johnson of this specific product lot (around 33,000 bottles). All other bottles remained on store shelves, and supply continued until May 2020, when Johnson & Johnson announced that it would stop selling Johnson's® Baby Powder products across North America. Retailers would be allowed to sell any remaining stock, and the company's cornstarch-based powders would still be available.

With the identification of asbestos in products containing talcum powder, along with studies linking asbestos in talcum powder to cancer in humans—including ovarian cancer and mesothelioma—there has been a wave of product liability lawsuits. Many of these cases have resulted in verdicts ordering defendants like Johnson & Johnson to pay large damages awards to plaintiffs.

Who Is Eligible to File a Talcum Powder Lawsuit?

One of the most important considerations here is that a personal injury or product liability lawsuit against a manufacturer like Johnson & Johnson hinges on your ability to link provable harm to your use of the company's product. It's not enough to have used Johnson's Baby Powder (or any other talcum powder product), no matter how extensively, or to have dozens of bottles of the product on your shelves.

To put it bluntly, no court will take your case seriously (and no lawyer will agree to represent you) unless:

  • you've used Johnson's Baby Powder or a similar talc-based product (on a somewhat extensive basis), and
  • you've received a medical diagnosis of a health problem (such as ovarian cancer or mesothelioma) that might be linked to your use of that product, and to your potential exposure to asbestos contained in that product.

Should I File a Talcum Powder Lawsuit?

Even when you've been diagnosed with a health problem that could be related to your use of Johnson's Baby Powder or a similar talc-based product, the decision to file a lawsuit is a very personal one.

Some personal injury/product liability lawsuit plaintiffs are motivated by a sense of justice, or even outrage at a large corporation's hubris in putting a dangerous product on the market. For other plaintiffs, the decision is perhaps a simpler one: the desire to be made whole (to the extent that's possible) after a harmful act, and to have legitimate losses compensated. That brings us to another common question on the minds of potential talc-asbestos plaintiffs.

What Kind of Compensation Is Available In a Talcum Powder Lawsuit?

A plaintiff's compensation comes in the form of "damages" paid by the defendant in the lawsuit (a manufacturer like Johnson & Johnson, for example). Whether an asbestos-talc lawsuit settles out of court or the plaintiff gets a jury verdict in their favor after trial, the different forms of compensation include:

  • payment of medical bills for care received, and payment of care that will be necessary in the future
  • any income lose because of the plaintiff's illness, including the impact of the illness on the plaintiff's ability to earn money in the future, and
  • the plaintiff's physical and mental pain and suffering associated with the illness, the medical care necessary to treat the illness (including affects of chemotherapy), and the impact of the illness on all facets of the plaintiff's life.

Learn more about damages in a personal injury case.

It's important to note that if the full spectrum of your damages isn't clear maybe your doctors haven't decided on the nature and extent of medical care you'll need in the future, or the specifics of any potential long-term disability aren't clear enough, it's probably not a good idea to consider any settlement offer. Your attorney will almost certainly want to wait until both of you have a complete and accurate picture of your losses.

Talcum Powder Lawsuit and Settlement News

February 2022: Judge Approves J&J Bankruptcy Move Over Talc Liability

In October 2021, facing over 35,000 lawsuits brought by plaintiffs who allege that their health problems were caused by Johnson's Baby Powder, Johnson & Johnson rolled out a cynical legal strategy to cover its backside, transferring all of its potential asbestos liability to a newly-formed entity (called LTL), and having that entity promptly file for bankruptcy. J&J seeded LTL with about $2 billion to resolve future asbestos-related claims. But thousands of plaintiffs will almost certainly be prevented from recovering for the full extent of their harm as a result of J&J's efforts to evade responsibility.

Many of those claimants objected to J&J's proposed strategy, but in February 2022, a federal judge approved the plan, allowing LTL's bankruptcy to proceed. According to NPR, Judge Michael Kaplan acknowledged the frustration that his decision would cause, but "concluded bankruptcy offers a more efficient remedy for those who claim they were harmed by J&J." Kaplan went on to state: "The Court is aware that its decision today will be met with much angst and concern. The Court remains steadfast in its belief that justice will best be served by expeditiously providing critical compensation through a court-supervised, fair, and less costly settlement trust arrangement."

Appeals over the decision are likely, so stay tuned.

January 2021: Large-Scale Study Finds "No Significant" Link Between Talcum Powder Products and Ovarian Cancer

A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) found no "statistically significant association" between genital ("perineal") use of talc products like baby powder and incidence of ovarian cancer. The study monitored over 250,000 women, many of whom reported "frequent" and "long-term" perineal use of talc-based powders.

It's important to note that, while this study acknowledged talc's "relationship to" asbestos and analyzed data in relation to a 1976 ban on use of asbestos in cosmetic talc, the researchers did not focus on (or try to differentiate results based on) talc-based products that have tested positive for asbestos—in recent FDA-sanctioned studies or elsewhere.

November 2020: Study Finds Asbestos in 15 Percent of Cosmetic Products

Lab testing of talc-based cosmetics revealed that almost 15 percent of the products sampled contained asbestos, according to a study conducted by the Environmental Working Group, which bills itself as a "non-profit, non-partisan organization dedicated to protecting human health and the environment." Analysis of the study's results shows that the cosmetics industry is doing an inadequate job of screening its supplies of talc, according to an EWG news release. Talc is a naturally-occurring mineral that is often mined in close proximity to asbestos, another natural-occurring substance that is also a known carcinogen.

November 2020: Missouri Supreme Court Lets $2.1B Talc-Cancer Award Stand

The Missouri Supreme Court has refused to hear Johnson & Johnson's appeal of a $2.1 billion verdict in favor of a group of women who alleged that the company's Johnson's® Baby Powder product caused their ovarian cancer.

In June, a Missouri appeals court upheld the verdict against J&J, but reduced the original $4.7B awarded by a St. Louis jury in July 2018 (described below). The appeals court awarded $500 million in compensatory damages and $1.62 billion in punitive damages (reduced from $550 million and $4.14 billion).

J&J's likely next (and final) appeals step is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn or reduce the verdict.

October 2020: J&J Settles 1,000 Baby Powder Lawsuits for $100M

Johnson & Johnson has agreed to pay more than $100 million to settle 1,000 lawsuits in which consumers allege that Johnson's® Baby Powder caused their cancer, Bloomberg reports. That works out to around $100,000 per lawsuit, although there are no details on whether the funds will be distributed equally, or payment will be based on the severity of a given claimant's illness. But the agreements mark "the first set of major settlements in four years of litigation" over the safety of J&J's popular talc products, according to Bloomberg.

February 2020: $750M Punitive Damages Verdict for Plaintiffs (later reduced to $186M)

A New Jersey state court jury ordered Johnson & Johnson to pay four plaintiffs $750 million in punitive damages on top of $187.5 million in compensatory damages. The four plaintiffs alleged that not only did asbestos-tainted baby powder cause their mesothelioma, but Johnson & Johnson was recklessly indifferent when it hid from the general public that it was selling baby powder containing asbestos.

December 2019: Defense Verdict for Johnson & Johnson

A St. Louis jury sided with Johnson & Johnson and concluded that more than 30 years of using Johnson's® Baby Powder did not cause the plaintiff's ovarian cancer. Johnson & Johnson successfully argued that the plaintiff's endometriosis contributed to her cancer.

July 2018: $4.7B Verdict for Plaintiffs

A St. Louis jury awarded 22 women $550 million in compensatory damages and $4.14 billion in punitive damages. This is one of the largest verdicts in U.S. history. The plaintiffs argued that asbestos in Johnson's® Baby Powder caused their ovarian cancers.

April 2018: $117M Verdict for Plaintiff

A New Jersey jury agreed with a man who said that not only did Johnson & Johnson's talcum powder cause his mesothelioma, but the company knew the talc material it was using to make baby powder contained asbestos. The $117 million award consisted of compensatory and punitive damages against both Johnson & Johnson as well as its talc supplier, Imerys Talc America, Inc.

May 2017: $110M Verdict for Plaintiff (reversed on appeal)

A Virginia woman brought suit in a Missouri state court against Johnson & Johnson and Imerys Talc America, Inc. She claimed her ovarian cancer came from 40 years of using Johnson's® Baby Powder. The jury agreed, although an appeals court later overturned the verdict.

With more than 10,000 cases pending against Johnson & Johnson alone, the cases discussed above represent just a fraction of asbestos-talcum powder litigation. While a number of plaintiffs' verdicts have been overturned on appeal, many thousands of cases are still in the court system, with many more yet to be filed. Some of the newer lawsuits have included cosmetic companies as defendants, such as Revlon Inc.

Do I Need a Talc-Asbestos (Talcum Powder) Lawyer for My Lawsuit?

Articles like this one can give you a basic sense of what to expect if you decide to pursue a talc-asbestos case, but for information that's tailored to your situation, your best next step might be reaching out to a knowledgeable lawyer.

The success of a talc-asbestos lawsuits often depends on complex issues of causation and analysis/presentation of medical evidence. A lawyer has the resources and connections to retain the right medical experts, put your strongest case together, and work towards the best outcome. Use the tools on this page to reach out to an attorney who handles talc-asbestos claims in your area. Answer three questions and you're eligible for a free evaluation of your case.

Learn more about hiring and working with a talc-asbestos lawyer.

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