Johnson & Johnson has been ordered to pay $4.7 billion in damages to 22 women with ovarian cancer who alleged that they contracted the ailment after using the company's talc products. A jury in US decided in favour of the women and ordered Johnson & Johnson to pay up $500 million plus $4.1 billion punitive damages. Johnson & Johnson said that it is deeply disappointed with the verdict and has said that they will challenge it.
In the trial that went on for six weeks, the women said that they developed ovarian cancer after using Johnson & Johnson talc products for decades. Six out of the 22 women represented in court have succumbed to ovarian cancer.
The prosecution argued that Johnson & Johnson were aware that its talc is contaminated with asbestos since 1970s but did not warn their customers about the risks involved.
Johnson & Johnson denied the claim and insisted that their products do not cause cancer. The company said that several studies approved their talc as safe and that the verdict was the result of a "fundamentally unfair process" that allowed the women to be represented as a single plaintiff. The prosecution also added that Johnson & Johnson used flawed testing methods.
The talc-asbestos link
The US FDA (Food and Drug Administration) had earlier - from 2009 to 2010 - commissioned a study of a variety of talc samples. It did not find asbestos in any of them. However, some talc are contaminated with a form of asbestos called tremolite. Tremolite is related to crocidolite and amosite, two of the most carcinogenic asbestos. Both talc and tremolite are created by the same process and are forms of magnesium silicate. Talc deposits have been uncovered from tremolite sources. Many talc mines extracted material highly contaminated with tremolite asbestos fibres, which most likely went into products made from talc.
Is talc carcinogenic?Despite inconclusive evidence, there have been concerns that using talcum powder on the genitals can lead to ovarian cancer. The International Agency for Cancer Research termed this process "possibly carcinogenic" as there were no concrete evidence of ovarian cancer due to talcum powder on the genitals.
Companies also have been using asbestos-free talc in its products since 1970. The debate has been waging on for years, nevertheless.
The case first came to light in 2013 when a woman claimed that she had been using the company's talcum powder for 40 years and developed ovarian cancer in 2006. The woman, Deane Berg also said that the company offered her a settlement of $1.3 million that she turned down. Following that case, multiple women came forward and Johnson & Johnson is currently facing around 9,000 cases regarding its talcum powder.