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Did Johnson & Johnson's Talcum Powder Cause Ovarian Cancer?

Health + Wellness
Did Johnson & Johnson's Talcum Powder Cause Ovarian Cancer?

Baby powder is one of the most commonly-used household products in America—but could it be a major cause of ovarian cancer? Earlier this year, a jury in Missouri ordered Johnson and Johnson to fork over $72 million to the family of a woman who claimed to develop ovarian cancer after using its branded baby powder. Hundreds of other women are making the same claim.

Watch as Ring of Fire's Mike Papantonio and Sam Seder discuss this issue:

Transcript from the video:

Seder: Pap, this week there was a huge award ordered by a state jury in Missouri against Johnson & Johnson for the company's, I guess, knowledge that the talcum based baby powder in Shower to Shower that they were selling for years had the ability to cause cancer in some…

Papantonio: Yeah, Ovarian cancer. They said more than that, Sam. The attorney that handled this is a friend and he's a great lawyer. Jere Beasley. The reason we're involved in this case, the reason I'm handling this case also, is because I really want women to understand that why would you possibly take a risk of using this Shower to Shower or Johnson's Baby Powder when there's any risk of Ovarian cancer? The studies right now, actually as early as the 1980s, the studies started showing there's a connection between the minerals that are found in this powder. Because it's mined. It's mined from the ground. This talcum is mined from the ground, but there's minerals that cause inflammation in the organ systems. Anytime you have inflammation that sometimes leads to scar-based cancers and what's happening Sam, is that they're finding the minerals that they can trace back to the powder in the tumors that are found in these women.

The question then becomes … You had the International Journal of Gynecological Cancer come out just … They did a study and they said, "Look. A woman who uses this on a regular basis has a 30 to 60 percent increase of Ovarian cancer." It's not a … That's not a coincidence. Harvard did a study. They said … It was even more compelling. They said a women doesn't even have to use it regularly. She puts herself at risk every time she uses it, because once that talcum … Once the minerals from the talcum powder absorb into the body they then become an … They create an inflammatory process. The Journal of National Cancer Institute talked about the use of talc in Ovarian cancer in 2014. They weren't equivocal about their findings.

The interesting thing about this case is that this is information that Johnson & Johnson knew since the 1980s. The documents in this case are … They're awful when you start determining what did they know. That's what the jury reacted to. This wasn't just … The question, Sam, was not only were they negligent. They obviously were negligent. The question was also, "Did they show reckless disregard for human life?" and the jury came back and said, "Yeah, they did." Sometimes if … Sam, if this were a medicine, if this were something that maybe was a life-saving medicine you had to take it, there'd be some risk-benefit analysis. There is risk-benefit analysis here. This is just absolutely no benefit.

Seder: My understanding is that there was a sense within Johnson & Johnson that they knew that these … The reporting of these links was going to drive down their sales and so they re-oriented who they were going to try and sell this to. My understanding is too is that they had been basically aware they were going to have to pay the piper at one point and have been preparing for this litigation in some way for maybe decades.

Papantonio: Yeah, they have. Matter of fact what they is they went out and hired what I call "biostitutes." Those are … You find 'em at places like Yale and Princeton. They're these scientists or these professor types that will say anything for the right amount of money. What they did is they went out and they phonied up some epidemiology. The epidemiology they tried to show that it's impossible for this to cause Ovarian cancer even though you're finding … You're tracing the minerals right to the ovary. The problem is when you have a company like this that has this much head-start they get to change the epidemiology, because they secretly pay for the epidemiology to make it look like there's no connection. That's what they did here. That's why Jere did such a wonderful job in this case. Actually working his way through that and showing that that's a fraud. That you can go hire a "biostitute," which is nothing more than a scientific whore, for the right money and they're going to say whatever you want 'em to say. That's what Johnson & Johnson did here in this case.

Seder: Pap, just tell us, in a case like this there are a lot of potential plaintiffs out there, so what happens next? You've had this … You have this award. I assume Johnson & Johnson tries to appeal. What … Walk us through what happens next.

Papantonio: What's going to happen next is this. First of all you're going to have lawyers that have virtually zero experience thinking, "I can go handle these cases." They can't. A guy like Beasley does the same thing we do. We specialize in these cases. This is what we do ... (laughs). What ends up happening is very often you'll have some lawyer go grab a bunch of these cases for people that need to have good representation and they'll end up making bad law in jurisdictions. This is what my prediction is on this case. You're going to … It's going to be like the scene in Jaws where the characters in the little rowboats, "I'm going to go catch the big white shark," but what ends up happening is they do so much harm to the project itself.

What I always try to tell people is know who you're hiring on something like this, because it can go bad for a lot of women. A lot of women are suffering from Ovarian cancer directly related to this talc and so the question then becomes … You have to … Simply because somebody advertises and says, "I handle these cases," you need to find out who they are, because I say that not just for … I say that, because they can upset the entire process and a lot of people can be left out in the dark, because some lawyer who knew … Had no clue on what they were doing tried to handle this case against Johnson & Johnson, blew it and made bad law that affects women all over the country. That the first thing I always talk about.

The second thing is that this case will continue … We're going to continue … There's going to be documents that keep showing up. The documents that Jere Beasley put in front of the jury are really bad. They showed really reckless disregard, terrible conduct by Johnson & Johnson and that's why the jury came back like they did. My prediction is those documents will even get worse as this case goes forward.

Seder: Wow. Really just amazing. I have to say that in the 10, now gosh 12 years that I have known you and I hear these stories from you that you deal with on a day to day basis, when you find these documents in these corporations and I am … I still have the ability to be amazed at the callousness and just the sheer sense that these folks, because they're making a dollar, owe nothing to the general public or their customers. It is shocking to me. Pap, it's always a pleasure to talk to you. Thank you much.

Papantonio: Thank you, Sam.

Learn more about the relationship between Talcum Powder use and Ovarian Cancer.

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A net-casting ogre-faced spider. CBG Photography Group, Centre for Biodiversity Genomics / CC BY-SA 3.0

Just in time for Halloween, scientists at Cornell University have published some frightening research, especially if you're an insect!

The ghoulishly named ogre-faced spider can "hear" with its legs and use that ability to catch insects flying behind it, the study published in Current Biology Thursday concluded.

"Spiders are sensitive to airborne sound," Cornell professor emeritus Dr. Charles Walcott, who was not involved with the study, told the Cornell Chronicle. "That's the big message really."

The net-casting, ogre-faced spider (Deinopis spinosa) has a unique hunting strategy, as study coauthor Cornell University postdoctoral researcher Jay Stafstrom explained in a video.

They hunt only at night using a special kind of web: an A-shaped frame made from non-sticky silk that supports a fuzzy rectangle that they hold with their front forelegs and use to trap prey.

They do this in two ways. In a maneuver called a "forward strike," they pounce down on prey moving beneath them on the ground. This is enabled by their large eyes — the biggest of any spider. These eyes give them 2,000 times the night vision that we have, Science explained.

But the spiders can also perform a move called the "backward strike," Stafstrom explained, in which they reach their legs behind them and catch insects flying through the air.

"So here comes a flying bug and somehow the spider gets information on the sound direction and its distance. The spiders time the 200-millisecond leap if the fly is within its capture zone – much like an over-the-shoulder catch. The spider gets its prey. They're accurate," coauthor Ronald Hoy, the D & D Joslovitz Merksamer Professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior in the College of Arts and Sciences, told the Cornell Chronicle.

What the researchers wanted to understand was how the spiders could tell what was moving behind them when they have no ears.

It isn't a question of peripheral vision. In a 2016 study, the same team blindfolded the spiders and sent them out to hunt, Science explained. This prevented the spiders from making their forward strikes, but they were still able to catch prey using the backwards strike. The researchers thought the spiders were "hearing" their prey with the sensors on the tips of their legs. All spiders have these sensors, but scientists had previously thought they were only able to detect vibrations through surfaces, not sounds in the air.

To test how well the ogre-faced spiders could actually hear, the researchers conducted a two-part experiment.

First, they inserted electrodes into removed spider legs and into the brains of intact spiders. They put the spiders and the legs into a vibration-proof booth and played sounds from two meters (approximately 6.5 feet) away. The spiders and the legs responded to sounds from 100 hertz to 10,000 hertz.

Next, they played the five sounds that had triggered the biggest response to 25 spiders in the wild and 51 spiders in the lab. More than half the spiders did the "backward strike" move when they heard sounds that have a lower frequency similar to insect wing beats. When the higher frequency sounds were played, the spiders did not move. This suggests the higher frequencies may mimic the sounds of predators like birds.

University of Cincinnati spider behavioral ecologist George Uetz told Science that the results were a "surprise" that indicated science has much to learn about spiders as a whole. Because all spiders have these receptors on their legs, it is possible that all spiders can hear. This theory was first put forward by Walcott 60 years ago, but was dismissed at the time, according to the Cornell Chronicle. But studies of other spiders have turned up further evidence since. A 2016 study found that a kind of jumping spider can pick up sonic vibrations in the air.

"We don't know diddly about spiders," Uetz told Science. "They are much more complex than people ever thought they were."

Learning more provides scientists with an opportunity to study their sensory abilities in order to improve technology like bio-sensors, directional microphones and visual processing algorithms, Stafstrom told CNN.

Hoy agreed.

"The point is any understudied, underappreciated group has fascinating lives, even a yucky spider, and we can learn something from it," he told CNN.

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