Do talc-based products cause cancer?
In April 2021, a Los Angeles County jury ordered talc supplier Whittaker Clark & Daniels to pay $4.8 million to a Vietnam veteran diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma, a rare and fatal form of cancer.
The lawsuit is one of the thousands alleging that various talc products, from deodorant to baby powder, were contaminated with cancer-causing asbestos.
Let’s take a look at talc, including how it’s used, whether or not it’s dangerous, and what to do if you were diagnosed with cancer after using a talc product.
What is talc?
Talc is a naturally occurring mineral composed of magnesium, silicon, oxygen, and hydrogen. Talc is mined from underground deposits mostly in the United States.
Most people can find talc somewhere in their bathroom. Talc is used in all sorts of cosmetics, including lipstick, mascara, eye shadow, and foundation. You can generally find out if a product contains talc by looking at the product label for any of the following terms:
- Talcum powder
- Cosmetic talc
- Magnesium silicate
Although talc is most commonly found in cosmetics, a number of other household products may also contain talc, including:
- Asphalt shingles
- Caulks and other sealants
- Foam packaging
Is talc safe?
When talking about whether or not talc is safe, it’s important to distinguish between 2 types of talc:
- Talc that contains asbestos
- Talc that is asbestos-free
Just like talc, asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral found underground. Talc and asbestos are often found in close proximity, which raises the unfortunate possibility of cross-contamination.
According to the American Cancer Society, it’s generally accepted that regularly inhaling talc that contains asbestos may cause cancer.
The Cosmetic, Toiletry, and Fragrances Association (CFTA) issued a guideline stating that all talc used in cosmetic products should be free from detectable amounts of asbestos. However, the CFTA does not test or enforce the guideline.
What’s more, the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not regularly test cosmetics for the presence of asbestos; rather, the manufacturers are responsible for ensuring the safety of their products.
In a recent study published in the journal of Environmental Health Insights, researchers found that nearly 15% of talc-based cosmetic products contained asbestos.
It’s less clear whether asbestos-free talc is safe. Studies have been conducted on animals and on people with mixed results.
For the most part, studies on people have focused on whether talc causes cancer in the ovaries if the talc powder, after being applied to the genital area, were to travel through the vagina, uterus, and fallopian tubes to the ovary. Some studies have shown a statistically significant association between genital use of talc and ovarian cancer, whereas other studies have not found an association.
A handful of studies have also looked at whether talc-products can cause endometrial (uterine) cancer. Some of the studies found a weak association after long-term use, and others did not find a link.
The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) conducted an exhaustive review and concluded that:
“There is inadequate evidence in humans for the carcinogenicity of inhaled talc not containing asbestos or asbestiform fibers,” but “there is limited evidence in humans for the carcinogenicity of perineal use of talc-based body powder.”
Overview of talcum powder lawsuits
A number of individual lawsuits and class action lawsuits have been filed against manufacturers of talc-based products. In general, these lawsuits allege that manufacturers knew their talc was contaminated by asbestos and could cause cancer, but did nothing to warn consumers about the risk.
|Manufacturers and products named in talc lawsuits|
|Johnson & Johnson||Johnson’s Baby Powder, Shower to Shower|
|Imerys Talc North America||Raw industrial and cosmetic talc|
|Whittaker, Clark & Daniels||Raw cosmetic talc|
|Vanderbilt Minerals||Raw industrial talc|
|Avon products||Avon body powders|
The first talc lawsuit was filed in 2013 by Deane Berg, a 49-year-old from Sioux Falls, South Dakota, who developed ovarian cancer in 2006 after using Johnson & Johnson’s talcum powder products. Johnson & Johnson offered Deane $1.3 million to settle her case, but Deane took the company to trial.
A jury found Johnson & Johnson negligent but did not award Deane damages.
In 2018, a report by Reuters news agency alleged that Johnson & Johnson knew for decades that its baby powder products were contaminated by asbestos.
On October 18, 2019, Johnson & Johnson issued a voluntary recall of its Johnsons’ Baby Powder after an FDA test found trace amounts of asbestos. The following year, Johnson & Johnson announced that it would no longer sell Johnson’s Baby Powder in the U.S. or Canada.
Johnson & Johnson currently faces more than 25,000 lawsuits from individuals who used its baby powder. The company has set aside almost $4 billion to settle the cases.
In 2021, the talc supplier Whittaker Clark & Daniels was found negligent and ordered to pay $4.8 million in damages. The company had supplied asbestos-contaminated talc to the maker of Old Spice for their body powder product. Willie McNeal, a 78-year-old veteran, used the Old Spice product for years before being diagnosed with malignant pleural mesothelioma.
Even more recently, Avon Products was ordered by a California jury to pay more than $50 million to Rita Chapman, a 76-year-old resident of Arizona who developed mesothelioma after using Avon body powders for years while working as a human-relations specialist.
The California jury found that Avon Products knew that the talc in some of its powder products posed a health risk but failed to warn customers.
Who can file a talc powder lawsuit?
People who used a talc-based product and developed cancer (particularly ovarian cancer or mesothelioma) may be eligible to file a talcum powder lawsuit.
A lawyer can properly evaluate your claim. However, in general, the longer you used the product, the better your chances of having a legitimate claim.
Statute of limitations for talc lawsuits
All states limit the amount of time plaintiffs have to file product liability cases. If a plaintiff fails to file a product liability lawsuit within this time limit, their lawsuit is forever barred.
The time limit, called the statute of limitations, differs from state to state, but generally falls between 2-10 years.
Depending on your state and the specifics of your case, the clock may start ticking on the day you first used the talc product, on the day you received your cancer diagnosis, or on the date you learned that the talc might have caused your cancer.