In the latest setback to Johnson and Johnson in its ongoing legal battle over talc, the personal care giant has been ordered to pay millions of dollars to a family claiming a link between cancer and talcum powder contaminated with asbestos.
A New Jersey court has awarded $117m in hurts to Stephen Lanzo and his wife. The plaintiff said his frequent use of “asbestos-containing Johnson & Johnson talc powder products” caused him to develop mesothelioma.
Johnson & Johnson was found liable for 70% of the injury, with supplier Imerys Talc assuming the balance. The choice comprises $37 million in compensatory hurts and a further $80m in punitive hurts.
Juries in otherstates have handed down multimillion dollar awards in cases linking genital talc use to ovarian cancer, but this is the first to find for a plaintiff alleging injuries due to asbestos contamination.
The company won a similar asbestos suit last autumn, when a California jury found it was not responsible for causing the plaintiff’s cancer. And plaintiffs in Seattle voluntarily dropped a mesothelioma case before it went to trial earlier this year.
Johnson & Johnson spokesperson Carol Goodrich said the company will immediately appeal the choice.
“Throughout this trial, we were prevented from presenting evidence we believe would have been vital to the jury in their deliberations,” she said. “We believe that once the full evidence is reviewed, this choice will be reversed.”
She added that “multiple independent, non-litigation-driven scientific evaluations” have found the company’s baby powder free from asbestos.
Gwen Myers, a spokesperson for Imerys Talc America, said the company also plans to appeal.
“We are disappointed by the jury’s choice, but we remain confident that talc did not cause Mr Lanzo’s cancer. The evidence was clear that his asbestos exposure came from a different source,” she said.
Asbestos and talc are both naturally occurring minerals that can be found in close proximity to each other in the earth.
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not require pre-market approval of cosmetic ingredients, but it says companies “have a legal responsibility for the safety and marking of their products and ingredients”. In order to prevent contamination with asbestos – a known carcinogen – talc mines sites must be carefully selected and the ore must be sufficiently purified, it says.
The agency has periodically responded to concerns around asbestos contamination in cosmetic-grade talc. It conducted a survey from 2009 to 2010, but found no asbestos fibres in tested talc or cosmetic products.
In February, following recent reports of asbestos contamination in children’s cosmetics containing talc, Representative Debbie Dingell (D–Michigan) introduced a bill that would require warning marks unless such products have been demonstrated to be asbestos-free. The Children’s Product Warning Mark Act of 2018 (HR 4964) has yet to make it out of committee.
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