For decades, major health and beauty companies, including industry giant Johnson & Johnson, marketed talc powder as "baby powder." It was advertised as a healthy and safe product to use to prevent diaper rash, odor and any kind of dampness or moisture on the skin.
Mothers applied this powder to their babies' bottoms, hoping to keep them dry and chap-free. Women applied the powder inside their underwear to stave off moisture and odor. People also used the powder in shoes, on their underarms and in many other applications that involved direct exposure to their skin and some degree of inhalation.
It's only now coming out that talc powder may have asbestos contamination, potentially making it unsafe for personal use. Many people diagnosed with cancers theoretically linked to asbestos have begun to bring lawsuits against the companies selling and marketing talc powder as safe.
Holding Johnson & Johnson responsible for mesothelioma diagnosis
In May 2018, a California jury awarded a single plaintiff $25.7 million in compensation. The case involved a 68-year-old woman diagnosed with mesothelioma after years of using the product. In this particular case, the jury awarded the woman both compensation for actual losses related to the cancer and $4 million punitive damages intended as a penalty against Johnson & Johnson (J&J). This is only one of thousands of additional talc-related lawsuits pending against J&J.
How long did the company know there was asbestos in its talc?
It is claimed that the company knew of the asbestos contamination of their talc powder since the 1970's. Talc and asbestos are closely-related minerals that may be intermingled during the mining process.
Recently released documents revealed that a J&J mining official recommended steps for reducing the presence of asbestos fibers in the talc ore more than 40 years ago. Other internal company memos discussed contamination levels, risks and cover-ups.
Financial penalties may be the only way to solve this problem
When companies choose to put profits over the health and safety of their own consumers, a simple reprimand or minor fine will not change that business practice. Lawsuits by the people harmed by these products can have a profound financial impact on the company's bottom line when successful. Severe financial penalties may be the only thing that will deter businesses from unethical practices.