It’s honestly mind-boggling that a company that prides itself on an extensive and iconic line of baby products would include ingredients that are linked to cancer. Yet Johnson & Johnson has continued selling products with talcum powder and talc ingredients such as Shower to Shower and the company’s famous Baby Powder despite the fact that the company has suspected the ingredient’s ill effects since the 1980s. Now, however, their silence and negligence comes with a hefty price tag: a Missouri state jury ordered the company to pay $72 million to the family of a woman who died of ovarian cancer in 2015 after using Johnson & Johnson products religiously for 35 years. The verdict, which awarded the family 10 million dollars in actual damages and an additional 62 million dollars in punitive damages, found Johnson & Johnson guilty of fraud, negligence, and conspiracy. An internally circulated, incriminating memo from 1997 compared the link between talc use and ovarian cancer with that of smoking and cigarettes:”anybody who denies (the) risks” between “hygenic” talc use and ovarian cancer will be publicly perceived in the same light as those who denied a link between smoking cigarettes and cancer: “denying the obvious in the face of all evidence to the contrary.”
This verdict is the first in the country to award damages in claims regarding the link between Johnson & Johnson products and cancer, but it surely won’t be the last. The company currently faces at least 1,200 still-pending lawsuits. Over the past few years, the company has taken baby steps to phase out other contentious chemicals such as formaldehyde from their products, but they don’t seem especially contrite about the damage they have potentially caused, arguing after the trial that they “firmly believe the safety of cosmetic talc is supported by decades of scientific evidence.” Perhaps hundreds of millions of dollars in lawsuits and a heavy blow to their bottom line will get this company headed toward a greener, more healthy line of products. Talc, for the record, is a naturally occurring mineral that is commonly used in hygiene and cosmetic products for its moisture-absorbing abilities and texture.