A St. Louis jury has awarded a California woman more than $70 million in a lawsuit alleging that years of using Johnson & Johnson’s baby powder caused her cancer.
The ruling came in a case brought by Deborah Giannecchini of Modesto, Calif., who was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2012. The suit accused Johnson & Johnson of “negligent conduct” in making and marketing its baby powder.
Johnson & Johnson said in a statement that while it sympathizes with those impacted by ovarian cancer, the company will appeal the verdict.
Earlier this year, two similar lawsuits in St. Louis ended in jury verdicts worth a combined $127 million. But two others in New Jersey were thrown out by a judge who said there wasn’t reliable evidence that talc leads to ovarian cancer, an often fatal but relatively rare form of cancer.
Ovarian cancer accounts for about 22,000 of the 1.7 million new cases of cancer expected to be diagnosed in the U.S. this year. Much research has found no link or a weak one between ovarian cancer and using baby powder for feminine hygiene, and most major health groups have declared talc harmless. Johnson & Johnson, whose baby powder dominates the market, maintains it’s perfectly safe.
However, Jim Onder of the Onder Law Firm in suburban St. Louis, which represented plaintiffs in all three St. Louis cases, cited research that began connecting talcum powder to ovarian cancer in the 1970s. He said case studies have indicated that women who regularly use talc on their genital area have up to a 40 percent higher risk of developing ovarian cancer.
Onder has accused Johnson & Johnson of marketing toward overweight women, blacks and Hispanics – the very same women most at-risk for ovarian cancer, he said. Factors known to increase a women’s risk of ovarian cancer include age, obesity, use of estrogen therapy after menopause, not having any children, certain genetic mutations, and personal or family history of breast or ovarian cancer.
Talc is a mineral that is mined from deposits around the world, including the U.S. The softest of minerals, it’s crushed into a white powder. It’s been widely used in cosmetics and other personal care products to absorb moisture since at least 1894, when Johnson & Johnson’s Baby Powder was launched. But it’s mainly used in a variety of other products, including paint and plastics.
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