The medical community has known since 1922 that inhaling talcum powder can lead to the lung disease talcosis and could even asphyxiate babies, yet Johnson & Johnson never warned consumers of its other talc-containing products of this risk. Instead, even after learning that asbestos was found in the talc it used, the company marketed its talcum products as “pure,” even adding fragrances to make the products more attractive to buyers, an epidemiologist testified to California jurors in the case of a woman suing J&J.
Dr. David S. Egilman told jurors that his opinions are based on an analysis of the confidential files of William Ashton, who oversaw Johnson & Johnson’s talc business from the 1960s to the 1990s. He said the documents prove Ashton knew the risks talc posed to consumers – like talcosis and asphyxiation – and that cornstarch would be a safer alternative, but he never took the products off the market nor did he warn consumers.
Instead, the company marketed its Johnson’s Baby Powder as the “purest protection.” As a result, consumers were misled into thinking the products were safe to use every day, Dr. Egilman testified.
Dr. Egilman was testifying in the case of Teresa E. Leavitt, who filed a lawsuit against J&J and several talc-mining companies now owned by Imerys Talc America, alleging her use of their talc products caused her terminal mesothelioma. She was diagnosed in 2017 with the rare form of cancer linked to asbestos exposure. Her doctors don’t expect her to survive the year.
Mesothelioma can take decades to develop. Once diagnosed, the disease usually proves fatal within 12 to 24 months.
Johnson & Johnson faces nearly 12,000 lawsuits alleging its talcum powder products caused mesothelioma or ovarian cancer. Several of the cases name asbestos as the culprit.