Talc Powder Litigation Stalls Passage of House Asbestos Ban

Consumer GoodsLegal News

A House bill that would bar the production, use and importation of asbestos, and ultimately implement a ban on the mineral within a year of its passage has stalled amid partisan bickering. 

Partisan bickering, of course, isn’t in the least bit surprising. But what is unusual is that the bill was supposed to pass with little to no opposition, The Hill reports.

Dubbed, “The Alan Reinstein Ban Asbestos Now Act,” the bill received just one no vote in committee, thus it was expected to overwhelmingly pass in the voting process without any changes. 

The reason why the bill has stalled? Democrats on the Energy and Commerce Committee blame the GOP for objecting to a provision that would let talcum baby powder litigation proceed without any interference. 

Approximately 20,000 lawsuits have been filed against Johnson & Johnson (J & J), maker of iconic Talc Baby Powder. Plaintiffs allege that using the powder for several years in the genital area caused them to develop ovarian cancer; the plaintiffs accuse J & J of covering up the dangers of using talc powder. Internal memos and emails obtained and released in a report by Reuters corroborates the plaintiffs claims. The report proves J & J knew for decades that some batches of its talc powder were contaminated with asbestos and tried to cover up that fact. (Asbestos is mined in close proximity to talc mineral, hence the asbestos contamination.) 

Asbestos exposure is also linked to lung cancer and mesothelioma (a cancer of the lining of the lungs and other organs), and the subject of the longest-running mass tort litigation in U.S. history, according to the Rand Corp. Through 2002, approximately 730,000 individuals who had been exposed to asbestos sued over 8,000 different businesses. However, asbestos is still widely used in commercial and industrial products, including automotive parts and furniture. 

Democratic lawmakers wanted to keep a clause in the bill that would “make sure nothing in the bill would block the minority women who are primarily bringing suits over harm from cosmetic talc,” The Hill reports. 

For their part, GOP lawmakers suggest the cause to allow talc litigation to proceed is a golden parachute for trial attorneys. The bill would fall under the auspices of the Toxic Substances Control Act. The Act doesn’t cover cosmetic talc.
Earlier this year, J & J discontinued sales of its talc baby powder in North America because of declining sales and negative publicity surrounding the litigation.

Update: This bill was abruptly pulled from the floor without any action on October 1, 2020.

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