A US federal government review has been ordered into the
potential link between talc and ovarian cancer following an
"influx of adverse event reports".
In August, a jury in the Los Angeles Superior Court ordered
personal care product manufacturer Johnson & Johnson
(J&J) to pay $417m to Eva Echeverria, who claimed she
developed the disease after using its talc-based products for
feminine hygiene purposes.
The verdict, which included an order for $70m compensation
and $347m in punitive damages, was the largest in a series of
lawsuits against J&J alleging that it failed to adequately
warn consumers about the cancer risks associated with its
Echeverria’s lawyer, Mark Robinson, said:
"J&J’s [documents] show that J&J knew
[about the risks], in the '60s,'70s, and '80s and '90s and
never warned [consumers]."
J&J is facing almost 5,000 similar cases across the US
and has already been ordered to pay damages in excess of
$300m by juries in earlier hearings.
FDA launches investigation
The US Food & Drug Administration (FDA) said in August
that it has commissioned its own research to establish if there
is a link between talc and cancer, acknowledging that
"talc’s effects on female genital system tissues
have not been adequately tested". The project, funded by the
FDA’s Office of Women’s Health, is
expected to take two years to complete.
On announcing the research project, the FDA said its
research will "help to fill some of the existing data gaps, in
the molecular and genetic events associated with early ovarian
oncogenesis, as these are largely unknown."
The announcement marks a significant change in policy for
the federal agency. In 2014, it denied a citizen’s
petition asking for a label to be put in talcum powder warning
of a possible link to ovarian cancer.
The FDA’s Office of Cosmetics and Colors
undertook a review of epidemiologic publications on the use of
talcum powder and ovarian cancer as part of the
agency’s response to the petition and "did not
find such a link in our review of the scientific literature at
"However, in part because of the continuing influx of
adverse event reports associated with talcum powder, we are
taking another look at the latest scientific literature and are
beginning our own laboratory research study to determine if
such a link between talc and ovarian cancer might now be
determined," a spokesperson said.
Regarding the cases already underway against talc product
manufacturers, the FDA said it does not comment on "possible,
pending or ongoing litigation".
A number of US legal firms have urged anyone suffering from
cancer that they believe was caused by use of talc to join the
class action to fight manufacturers, of which J&J is the
most prominent and is the only company sued over cancer claims
A spokesperson for J&J said: "We have no higher
responsibility than the health and safety of consumers who rely
on our products. Our confidence in using talc is based on a
long history of safe use and more than 30 years of research by
independent researchers, scientific review boards and global
J&J has said it will appeal the Echeverria verdict,
"because we are guided by science, which supports the safety
of Johnson’s Baby Powder."
Imerys dropped from case
France-headquartered Imerys, the world’s
largest mineral talc producer, was initially named on the same
LA lawsuit as J&J but was dismissed from the case prior to
trial "due in part to the court’s finding that
talc is not an inherently dangerous substance," explained a
spokesperson for Imerys Talc North America.
"Imerys is committed to the safety of its talc and utilises
a rigorous set of proprietary methods in producing talc to
ensure its safety," the company said. "The consensus of
government agencies and professional scientific organisations
that have reviewed the safety of talc over the last 20 years is
clear: talc is safe under conditions of normal use."
Imerys also pointed out that occupational exposure to talc
has not been listed as a known or suspected human carcinogen
by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC),
the National Toxicity Program (NTP), the Occupational Health
and Safety Administration (OSHA), the American Congress of
Governmental Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH) or the European
Miners shrug off risk to business
Jim Frederick, assistant director of health, safety and
environment for the United Steelworkers Union which represents
more than 800,000 active members in the US and Canada
– including miners – said he and his
colleagues had been "cognisant of legal activity in this area
over recent years" and were striving to address health and
"One of our goals is to make sure workplaces are safe and
what comes out of them is safe from a public health
perspective. When health and safety issues are raised, we often
hear it will cause facilities to have less work but, in
reality, that hasn’t been our experience."
"It seems to be pretty much business as usual." A spokesman
for the US National Mining Association said, adding that "the
[Echeverria] ruling, to my knowledge, has absolutely no
bearing on or implications for US mining operations."
The UK-based Cosmetics, Toiletry and Perfumery Association
(CTPA) has stressed that it takes the issue seriously and is
being guided by scientific consensus on talc’s
"The cosmetic talc industry has actively supported major
scientific studies into the properties, use and safety of
cosmetic talc, providing evidence of its quality and purity,"
the body stated. It said it had had a dedicated cosmetic talc
specification since the 1960s. In 1996 industry completely
revised the methods of measurement to accommodate modern
detection methods and to set the highest standards for cosmetic
talc usage. This standard was last reviewed in 2016.
"Statistically robust prospective epidemiology studies on
large populations of women have clearly shown that talc is
not a carcinogen to the ovary," said the CTPA. "There
is no known physiological mechanism by which talc can
plausibly migrate to the ovaries from the perineum," it