Out of any mass tort in U.S. history, asbestos lawsuits are the longest-running, beginning in the early 1970s. Since then, Johnson & Johnson has become the face of asbestos litigation, facing 20,000 lawsuits over its asbestos-tainted talc powder, which has been linked to both ovarian cancer and mesothelioma, the latter of which is a rare cancer that affects the lining of the lungs and other organs.
But while J & J lawsuits are the focus of the asbestos litigation limelight, another company will pay nearly $100 million to settle tainted talc claims. The company in question is BASF, the world’s largest chemical company.
BASF faces thousands of lawsuits because one of its subsidiaries owned a mine in Vermont that produced talc. The talc was then used in building products, auto parts and other industrial applications. Although the talc produced at the BASF-owned mine was not generally used for cosmetic products, such as talc powder, one product that it was used for was a potential health threat to children: birthday party balloons.
The company that produced the talc, Englehard, was acquired by BASF in 2006 for $5 billion, and the lawsuit deals with talc sold from 1967 until 1983.
Some plaintiffs who sued Engelhard/BASF between 1984 and 2011 either dropped their lawsuits or had their cases thrown out; under terms of the settlement, these plaintiffs are eligible for compensation.
BASF and the law firm representing Engelhard didn’t admit any wrongdoing.
According to InsuranceJournal.com, a study by the Rand Corporation says that companies and insurers have paid $70 billion to settle asbestos injury claims; this figure is likely much higher since the study is from 2005.
For a while, it seemed that not a single penny of the $72.5 million settlement that BASF and Engelhard will pay (plus legal fees) would contribute to the $70 billion asbestos claims. That’s because a New Jersey federal judge threw out a proposed class-action lawsuit. However, a federal appeals court later revived the case.
Like Johnson & Johnson, BASF’s subsidiary is accused of knowingly using asbestos-tainted talc and covering up the evidence.