Johnson & Johnson (J & J) recently announced that it would settle 1,000 baby powder lawsuits for $100 million. Despite the settlement, J & J still faces over 20,000 additional lawsuits over its talc-based baby powder, which plaintiffs allege caused them to develop ovarian cancer or mesothelioma, a cancer of the lining of the lungs or other organs.
One such additional case not covered in the $100 million settlement is that of Donna and Robert Olson, a married couple residing in New York state. A judge with New York’s Supreme Court upheld a lower court’s jury finding that J & J is liable for Mrs. Olson’s mesothelioma. The plaintiff claims to have used J & J’s talcum-based baby powder and/or Shower to Shower (a post-shower feminine hygiene deodorant) every day for 50 years.
Although the judge ordered J & J to pay $120 million to Donna and her husband, the payout is over $200 million less than the 2019 lower court jury’s reward. At the conclusion of that 14-week trial, the couple was awarded $325 million.
The Olsons will either accept the award, or have a new trial specifically to determine damage awards. Meanwhile, J & J intends to appeal the verdict, citing “significant legal and evidentiary errors” at the trial, reports Reuters.
“We deeply sympathize with anyone suffering from cancer, which is why the facts are so important,” a spokesperson for J & J said. “We remain confident that our talc is safe, asbestos free, and does not cause cancer.”
Despite this assertion, in October 2019, the company voluntarily recalled a batch of talc powder (30,000 bottles) after trace amounts of asbestos, a cancer-causing mineral naturally found in close proximity to talc mineral in the Earth, were found. A J & J announcement issued in response to the recall, and posted on the FDA’s website says:
“The recall was in response to a U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) test indicating the presence of sub-trace levels of chrysotile asbestos contamination (no greater than 0.00002%) in samples from a single bottle purchased from an online retailer.”
The announcement from J & J seems to imply that the levels of asbestos detected were so minute that no harm can be caused by that level of exposure. However, according to The National Institute for Occupational Health and Safety (NIOSH), “All levels of asbestos exposure to date have demonstrated asbestos-related disease.” Consequently, asbestos exposure–even very small amounts–can adversely affect health.
The New York Supreme Court judge who upheld the Olson’s lower court victory wrote that for many years J & J was “knowingly deceitful about” or “willfully blind to” potential health risks of its talc products, in part to maintain market share and profit.
A 2018 Reuters investigation includes evidence that shows that from the early 1970s to the early 2000s, J & J’s raw talc and finished powders sometimes tested positive for small amounts of asbestos. Earlier this year, J & J announced it would no longer sell talcum baby powder in North America. Over 170 organizations are calling for a global ban on the product. And earlier this month, the Missouri Supreme Court refused to review a lower court’s ruling that awarded $2.1 billion to 22 women.
As of this writing, Donna Olson’s mesothelioma is currently in an advanced stage.