A 62-year-old Virginia woman is now $110.5 million richer after a St. Louis jury ruled in her favor, supporting her claim that Johnson & Johnson baby powder caused her to get ovarian cancer.
On Thursday night, Wise, Virginia resident Lois Slemp received the highest award in a series of baby powder lawsuits alleging that the products could cause cancer. According to the Los Angeles Times, previous juries in St. Louis awarded a combined $197 million to three plaintiffs, with the previous highest award of $72 million, like the others, it is still under appeal. Furthermore, there are about 2,000 other state and federal lawsuits accusing companies such as Johnson & Johnson of making talcum powder products that could pose long-term health risks, including, but not limited to cancer.
Prior to her ovarian cancer diagnosis in 2012, Lois Slemp had used Johnson’s baby powder for over four decades. And with the cancer having spread to her liver, she was too ill to fly to St. Louis for the trial. In her absence, an audio recording of her deposition was played in court, with the following succinct message against the maker of the talcum powder that had allegedly caused her illness.
“I trusted Johnson & Johnson. Big mistake.”
The L.A. Times wrote that Slemp was “too sick to talk to reporters,” per her lawyer, Jim Onder, who had told the press that his client was “thrilled” by the verdict.
For its part, Johnson & Johnson issued a statement, saying that it plans to contest the St. Louis court’s decision and counter the scientific evidence used to back up Slemp and the other plaintiffs’ claims.
“We are preparing for additional trials this year, and we will continue to defend the safety of Johnson’s Baby Powder,” the Brunswick, N.J. company said in its prepared statement.
Is it really possible for an ostensibly harmless product like Johnson & Johnson baby powder to cause cancer? According to Cancer.org, the main question to ask when determining whether talcum powder causes cancer or not is whether the talc used in the product contains asbestos or not. Talc, the active agent used in baby powder products, is a mineral that has been used in personal care products since the late 19th century when Johnson & Johnson baby powder was first launched.
“Talc that has asbestos is generally accepted as being able to cause cancer if it is inhaled. This type of talc is not used in modern consumer products.”
With that as the only consideration, products such as Johnson’s baby powder should not cause cancer. However, Cancer.org added that there still isn’t enough evidence to prove whether asbestos-free talc can also be cancerous.
Some experts have expressed doubt that products like Johnson’s baby powder cause cancer, stating that causality is very hard to establish when so many women have gotten ovarian cancer despite never using talcum powder or similar products.
“It is very hard to establish causal relationships. A lot of ovarian cancers occur in women who have never used talc, and many women have used talc and not gotten ovarian cancer,” said Dr. Nicolas Wentzensen of the National Cancer Institute, as quoted by the New York Daily News.
Although there have been warnings suggesting that the use of talc for feminine hygiene is “possibly cancerous,” most government health organizations have found no cancer-related risk in talc, with most studies finding only a weak link at most between talcum powder and ovarian cancer. But in their St. Louis lawsuits claiming Johnson’s baby powder causes cancer, the Onder, Shelton, O’Leary & Peterson law firm cited several papers suggesting that women who use talc products on their genital area are 40 percent more likely to get ovarian cancer than women who don’t.
[Featured Image by Jeff Chiu/AP Images]