Talcum Baby Powder Company Forced to Pay $72 Million for Woman's Ovarian Cancer Death

baby powderFraud, negligence, and conspiracy were what one company was found guilty of in the case brought against them by the family of 62-year-old Jacqueline Fox -- who believed that her ovarian cancer was due to her use of talcum powder.


Well, a Missouri state jury agreed, ruling against Johnson & Johnson, the makers of a talcum-based Baby Powder and Shower to Shower talc reportedly used by Fox. (The concern does not apply to cornstarch-based baby powder.)

Her family will receive a total of $72 million dollars from Johnson & Johnson -- the jury split the ruling for $10 million of actual damages and $62 million of punitive damages. With several hundred cases against the talc maker, this marks the first time that a jury awarded damages. Back in 2013, Deane Berg filed suit against Johnson & Johnson also claiming that her use of the product played a part in her ovarian cancer, but records show that there were no damages awarded in that case.

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It was reported that Fox used the products for over 35 years and was diagnosed with ovarian cancer three years ago. She died in October. Her family's lawyers felt that Johnson & Johnson knew of the cancer risk, yet continued to sell the products to consumers in the interest of making money. Johnson & Johnson no longer owns the product Shower to Shower, but still sells Baby Powder. Johnson & Johnson is expected to appeal. Their spokesperson Carol Goodrich said the company feels that science backs up its belief in the safety of its products, and cited research from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the National Cancer Institute for support. 

Safe by what standards?

Talc, in its natural form, contains asbestos; however, asbestos was removed from talc products in the '70s. The American Cancer Society noted that personal use of talc has mixed results on health, though there is "some suggestion of a possible increase in ovarian cancer risk." Instead of talc, the American Cancer Society suggests using cornstarch powder (also produced by Johnson & Johnson), which doesn't show any link with any form of cancer.

We need to look into this more.

After pressures from consumers, in 2014 Johnson & Johnson removed formaldehyde and the carcinogen 1,4-dioxane for their "No More Tears" baby shampoo. It's hard to believe a shampoo believed to be safe enough for babies and something that supposedly wouldn't hurt their eyes contained these potentially harmful chemicals. But it did. Seemingly as a result, J & J also reconfigured the contents in about 100 other baby-care products. That was a positive move, and one I hope more companies do as new studies show certain dangers in ingredients previously believed to be safe. As we trend more toward truly natural ingredients, the hope is that all companies follow, especially companies that many of us trust.

As a member of the buying public, I want to trust companies. I want to know that if the label says "natural" or "safe," it is in fact natural and safe. I don't want to believe that the very same baby powder used on my own body when I was a child is thought to contribute to ovarian cancer. But the fact is that the safety standards in the United States haven't exactly proven to be safe. We have no regulations here -- companies can produce chemical-laden products for babies, kids, and adults, and the only way we know if they are harmful is when the toxins show up in our bodies, our kids' bodies. The toxicity of a product is only under a microscope after something bad happens. We think that just because something is marketed for babies, it is safe for babies, but that isn't always the case.

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This ruling against Johnson & Johnson could change that. It needs to. Manufactures can eliminate potentially harmful chemicals in their products, and we need to hold them responsible for producing safe merchandise. The fact that J & J lost this case sets a precedent, perhaps making all companies ensure their products are safer, free from potentially harmful toxins. It could force us all to do more, to learn more. I want more regulation of the cosmetic industry as well as our production of plastics, because they aren't regulating themselves. We, as consumers, have the power to force a change. We know more now than we did in the past. We know what chemicals can be harmful (if not, we have the power to find out). We can demand safer products by not purchasing items with toxins in them, forcing companies to make a change or fail.


Image via iStock.com/Napat_Polchoke

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