Facing thousands of asbestos exposure lawsuits, pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson has announced it will no longer sell talcum powder products in the US or Canada.
In mid-May, Johnson & Johnson announced that it will discontinue sales of its talc-based baby powder in the US and Canada, citing declining sales due “to changes in consumer habits and fueled by misinformation around the safety of the product.”
In recent years, a growing body of research has linked J&J talc products to increased risk of cancer. Johnson & Johnson talc has been shown to be contaminated with asbestos, which has long been linked to cancer. Asbestos-contaminated talc in J&J baby powder and other products have been linked to ovarian cancer as well as mesothelioma, a rare form of cancer that doctors believe is caused only by exposure to asbestos.
The new recall isn’t the first time J&J has pulled its products from the market due asbestos contamination. Last October, the company announced a recall for a lot of Johnson’s Baby Powder after the FDA discovered asbestos-contaminated talc in the product.
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J&J now faces nearly 20,000 asbestos exposure lawsuits from cancer patients, survivors and their families over the presence of asbestos in the company’s talc products. J&J has so far been forced to pay billions of dollars in settlements. In a single settlement in 2018, a court ordered J&J to pay $4.7 billion in damages to a group of 22 women who developed ovarian cancer after using their talc products.
Despite the evidence, J&J maintains that its products are safe for consumers.
“We will continue to vigorously defend the product, its safety, and the unfounded allegations against it and the company in the courtroom,” the company said in a statement.
As far back as the 1970s, studies suggested a possible link between talc products and ovarian cancer. The links between asbestos and cancers like mesothelioma have similarly been established for decades.
Last year, an investigation by Reuters showed that J&J and other medical product manufacturers knew about the possibility of asbestos contamination in their talc. J&J and other companies pressured the FDA to allow their products to go to market without informing consumers about the risks their products pose.
Talc is a naturally occurring mineral mined for its soft and absorbent properties, but during the mining process, it is sometimes contaminated with asbestos.
As the number of asbestos exposure lawsuits against J&J has grown, the company’s talc supplier, Imerys Talc America, part of French conglomerate Imerys SA, has been implicated as well. In the 2018 trial over J&J talc’s role in causing ovarian cancer, Imerys settled before the cases went to court for an undisclosed amount.
In February, Imerys filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy as a result of its liability as the talc supplier in asbestos exposure lawsuits against Johnson and Johnson. Bankruptcy will allow Imerys to settle the thousands of suits against it. A number of other companies facing lawsuits for personal injuries to consumers have used a similar strategy as courts begin to side with consumers.
Imerys Talc America continues to deny that its products have caused ovarian cancer or asbestos-related mesothelioma.
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