Women and children have long used talcum powder as part of their personal hygiene routine as a way to stay fresh and clean after a shower, and as safe way to prevent diaper rash. Products manufactured and distributed by Johnson & Johnson and other talc producers have recently come under scrutiny after the first talcum powder lawsuit alleged that baby powder could place users at a heightened risk for ovarian cancer. Deane Berg, the plaintiff in the lawsuit Berg v. Johnson & Johnson Consumer Companies, Inc., U.S. District Court, District of South Dakota, Case No. 09-4179, is the first to allege that the use of asbestos-free talcum powder can lead to ovarian cancer. Like many women before us, Deane Berg was a faithful user of Johnson’s Baby Powder and Shower-to-Shower products. After 32 years of use, Deane Berg was diagnoses with ovarian cancer in 2006 at the age of 49. The plaintiff in the body powder lawsuit alleges that Johnson & Johnson and other manufacturers not only should have known that their products are potentially cancerous but that they failed to warn consumers of the known dangers. The jury in the Berg v. Johnson & Johnson case found that the defendant failed to warn consumers about the known link between talc powder and female hygiene use creating a heightened risk for ovarian cancer. In failure to warn cases the manufacturer often argues that the injured plaintiff failed to follow the instructions or ignored the warning. Here, the manufacturer of the talc powder instead of warning the public Johnson & Johnson chose to promote the safe female hygienic use with products such as Shower to Shower and Baby Powder.
While new studies have come to light that strongly suggests that talcum powder acts like a carcinogen, these harmful side effects have been well known. The Johnson & Johnson website states the safety of a product in use for over 100 years. Also stating that the U.S. Food & Drug Administration and the National Toxicology Program, which is part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, have concluded in the past that talc is not a carcinogen. However, more recently the American Cancer Society has suggested that while there is not enough data to definitely conclude whether or not talc powder should be considered a carcinogen, it has advised women to consider an alternative product, specifically cornstarch-based cosmetic products instead of their talc alternative. The International Agency for Research Cancer part of the World Health Organization classifies talc that contains asbestos as “carcinogenic to humans” and uses of talc-based body powder especially near the genitals as “possibly carcinogenic to humans.” More information and more studies will be required before the true safety of talc is revealed.
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