In February 2016 a Missouri jury awarded 72 million dollars in damages to the family of a woman who died of ovarian cancer that was linked to her use of Johnson and Johnson’s talcum powder. Jacqueline Fox was diagnosed with advanced ovarian cancer in 2013 at age 59. She died in October of 2015. Four months later, the jury concluded that Johnson & Johnson was liable for negligence, conspiracy, and failure to warn women of the potential risks of using talcum powder in the genital area, which contributed to the development of Ms. Fox’s disease. Fox reported in her deposition that she had sprinkled Johnson & Johnson talk powder in her underpants daily since she was a teenager in order to stay “fresh and clean.”
The jury found that there was strong evidence that the company knew about the dangers of talc and they failed to warn consumers about the dangers in order to boost sales. During the trial, an internal memo from a medical consultant was exposed which suggested that anybody who denied the risks between hygienic use of talcum powder to the genital area and ovarian cancer would eventually be seen in a similar way to those who denied a link between smoking cigarettes and cancer. Johnson and Johnson had marketed the talcum powder product heavily for use in “feminine hygiene.” The company Talc America, the biggest supplier in the country and the largest supplier of talc to Johnson and Johnson, was also named as a defendant but was not found to be liable.
This Missouri jury is the first to award damages on the issue but currently more than 1,200 other cases are waiting to be heard. These cases are being brought by women who also claim that the company knew that the talc in its powder was linked to ovarian cancer when used in the genital area and should have warned its customers. Studies linking talcum powder and ovarian cancer date back to as early as 1971 when a group of patients with ovarian cancer revealed talc particles in their ovarian tissue.
There is currently a warning on baby powder cautioning against inhalation, and that the powder is for external use only. The current product still contains talc but the company now also has a version that uses corn starch. Other comparable products such as Gold Bond, California Baby, and Burt’s Bees sell baby powder made of cornstarch only. The American Cancer Society began suggesting in 1999 that women use the corn starch product if they plan to use it on their genitals.