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By Jessica Corbett
A Reuters investigation published Friday charges that Johnson & Johnson, a multi-billion dollar company known for its healthcare products, knew for decades that its iconic talcum baby powder "was sometimes tainted with carcinogenic asbestos," but concealed the information from regulators and the public.
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.''