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A Missouri jury has ordered Johnson & Johnson to pay $72 million to the family of an Alabama woman who claimed to have developed ovarian cancer after using talc-containing products from the company for several decades. Jackie Fox, who died at age 62 in October, was one of more than 1,200 women from across the country who are suing the healthcare giant for failing to warn consumers that talc, a mineral found in talcum powder, could cause cancer. In an audio deposition, Fox said she used Johnson & Johnson’s trademark baby powder and “Shower to Shower” feminine-hygiene powder for 35 years before she received a cancer diagnosis three years ago. Evidence submitted by the plaintiff included a report from a pathologist who found talc in Fox’s ovaries, which caused the inflammation that resulted in the cancer.
Talc, which consists of magnesium, silicon, oxygen, and hydrogen, is naturally occurring and mined from soil. It’s typically used in cosmetics and personal-care products to absorb moisture and prevent caking.
Although studies have linked regular talc use with ovarian cancer for decades, the American Cancer Society notes that there is no definitive research on whether asbestos-free talc—the version used by American companies since the 1970s—does the same.
“Findings have been mixed, with some studies reporting a slightly increased risk and some reporting no increase,” the organization wrote on its website. “Many case-control studies have found a small increase in risk. But these types of studies can be biased because they often rely on a person’s memory of talc use many years earlier.”
Still, the American Cancer Society advises women to “consider using cornstarch-based cosmetic products instead” since “there is no evidence at this time linking cornstarch powders with any form of cancer.”
Cornstarch is widely substituted for talc as an absorbent, including by Johnson & Johnson in certain products. The company has long defended its use of talc in public, however.
During the trial, Fox’s attorneys introduced into evidence a September 1997 internal memo from a Johnson & Johnson medical consultant suggesting that “anybody who denies [the] risks” between “hygienic” talc use and ovarian cancer is “denying the obvious in the face of all evidence to the contrary.”
Jere Beasley, a lawyer for Fox’s family, told reporters that Johnson & Johnson “knew as far back as the 1980s of the risk,” and yet resorted to “lying to the public, lying to the regulatory agencies.”
In a verdict announced Monday night, jurors n the circuit court of St. Louis awarded Fox’s family 10 million of actual damages and $62 million of punitive damages.
Carol Goodrich, a Johnson & Johnson spokeswoman said Tuesday that the New Jersey-based company was deciding whether to appeal the verdict.
“We have no higher responsibility than the health and safety of consumers, and we are disappointed with the outcome of the trial,” she said in a statement. “We sympathize with the plaintiff’s family but firmly believe the safety of cosmetic talc is supported by decades of scientific evidence.”
Trials in several other talc lawsuits have been set for later this year, according to Fox’s lawyers.