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Jury Awards $70 Million to Woman Who Says Baby Power Gave Her Cancer

Health + Wellness

A St. Louis jury has awarded $70 million in damages to a California woman who claims she developed ovarian cancer after using Johnson & Johnson's trademark baby powder for decades. The jury also held talc supplier and co-defendant Imerys liable for damages as well.

Baby powder is one of the most commonly-used household products in America. Flickr

Thursday's verdict is the third consecutive loss for the company over repeated claims that extended use of talcum powder can cause this relatively rare but lethal form of cancer. Two previous St. Louis juries awarded verdicts to plaintiffs Jacqueline Fox and Gloria Ristesund of $72 million and $55 million after concluding that talc exposure causes ovarian cancer.

The latest case involves Deborah Giannecchini of Modesto, California, who was 59 when she was diagnosed with Stage IV ovarian cancer four years ago, according to Montgomery, Alabama-based law firm Beasley Allen.

Giannecchini had used Johnson & Johnson's Baby Powder for feminine hygiene for more than 40 years. She has gone through multiple surgeries, chemotherapy regimens and even had her spleen, colon, uterus and ovaries removed. Her lawyers said that she has an 80 percent chance of dying in the next two years, according to Bloomberg. The lawsuit accused the company of "negligent conduct" in making and marketing its baby powder.

"Yet another jury has heard the evidence outlining a link between Johnson & Johnson's talcum powder products and ovarian cancer, and has decided that there is a clear connection," Beasley Allen lawyer Ted Meadows, who helped lead the litigation, said in a statement.

"When is enough going to be enough? Despite repeated verdicts that hold the company accountable, Johnson & Johnson has refused to remove its talcum powder products from shelves, has refused to warn consumers about the risk, and continues to deny its responsibility. It's time for this company to come clean and put consumer health ahead of profits."

The jurors came up with their verdict after three hours of deliberation. Juror Billie Ray, 76, of St. Louis, told Bloomberg after the trial that Johnson & Johnson should have provided a warning label on the product to let consumers decide whether to use the product.

"It seemed like Johnson & Johnson didn't pay attention," she said. "It seemed like they didn't care."

Giannecchini was also pleased with the outcome. "I've waited for a long time for this," she told Bloomberg. "I've wanted this so badly."

About 2,000 women have filed suits against Johnson & Johnson over talcum powder's link to ovarian cancer.

Beasley Allen stated in its press release that "the disease strikes about one in 70 women, though studies show that women who use talc-containing products on their genitals as a daily hygiene habit have a 30 to 60 percent increased risk of developing ovarian cancer."

"An expert at trial testified that in the last 34 years, since the time of the first epidemiological study in 1982, approximately 127,500 women have died as a result of ovarian cancer that could be attributed to talcum powder use on the genitals, and an estimated 1,500 women will die within the next year as a result of talc use," the firm added.

However, the American Cancer Society states that many scientific findings have been mixed, with some studies reporting a slightly increased risk and some reporting no increase.

Johnson & Johnson maintains that their flagship product is perfectly safe and all three cases are being appealed.

Spokeswoman Carol Goodrich released the following statement:

"We deeply sympathize with the women and families impacted by ovarian cancer. We will appeal today's verdict because we are guided by the science, which supports the safety of Johnson's Baby Powder. In fact, two cases pending in New Jersey were dismissed in September 2016 by a state court judge who ruled that plaintiffs' scientific experts could not adequately support their theories that talcum powder causes ovarian cancer, a decision that highlights the lack of credible scientific evidence behind plaintiffs' allegations."

Imerys spokesman Dan Rene told Bloomberg that the company is "disappointed'' with the verdict. The company had been cleared in the two previous St. Louis trials.

"This verdict serves to undermine efforts by the scientific community to determine the true causes of ovarian cancer,'' Rene added. "The theories relied upon by plaintiffs' experts lacked scientific foundation.''

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Dr. Siders pointed out that it has happened before. She noted that in the 1970s, the small town of Soldiers Grove, Wisconsin moved itself out of the flood plain after one too many floods. The community found and reoriented the business district to take advantage of highway traffic and powered it entirely with solar energy, as the New York Times reported.

That's an important lesson now that rising sea levels pose a catastrophic risk around the world. Nearly 75 percent of the world's cities are along shorelines. In the U.S. alone coastline communities make up nearly 40 percent of the population— more than 123 million people, which is why Siders and her research team are so forthright about the urgency and the complexities of their findings, according to Harvard Magazine.

Some of those complexities include, coordinating moves across city, state or even international lines; cultural and social considerations like the importance of burial grounds or ancestral lands; reparations for losses or damage to historic practices; long-term social and psychological consequences; financial incentives that often contradict environmental imperatives; and the critical importance of managing retreat in a way that protects vulnerable and poor populations and that doesn't exacerbate past injustices, as Harvard Magazine reported.

If communities could practice strategic retreats, the study says, doing so would not only reduce the need for people to choose among bad options, but also improve their circumstances.

"It's a lot to think about," said Siders to Harvard Magazine. "And there are going to be hard choices. It will hurt—I mean, we have to get from here to some new future state, and that transition is going to be hard.…But the longer we put off making these decisions, the worse it will get, and the harder the decisions will become."

To help the transition, the paper recommends improved access to climate-hazard maps so communities can make informed choices about risk. And, the maps need to be improved and updated regularly, the paper said as the New York Times reported.


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