Johnson & Johnson Talcum Powder

Johnson and Johnson – Critical documents expose talc link to ovarian cancer

A fourth jury has sided with the Plaintiff in litigation alleging a link between genital use of talcum powder and the development of ovarian cancer. The jury held Johnson & Johnson and its talc supplier, Imerys Talc America, liable and awarded Lois Slemp more than $110 million in compensatory and punitive damages. Ms. Slemp developed ovarian cancer after more than four decades of using talc-containing Johnson’s Baby Powder and Shower to Shower body powder.

Three trials brought by other women suffering from ovarian cancer led to jury verdicts last year of $70 million, $72 million and $55 million against Johnson & Johnson and Imerys.

Decades-Long Coverup of Ovarian Cancer Risk

During their investigation of these cases, Plaintiffs’ lawyers uncovered a decades-long cover-up by Johnson & Johnson and Imerys of the increased risk of ovarian cancer linked to its products. In particular, juries saw three critical documents that illustrate that the companies knew about the risk, yet did nothing to warn women about the danger.

Ovarian Cancer and Talc – A Case-Control Study

In 1982, Dr. Daniel Cramer, who testifies at trial as an expert for the Plaintiffs, was lead author of a study titled “Ovarian Cancer and Talc – A Case-Control Study,” which showed a 92 percent increased risk of ovarian cancer from genital talc use. An earlier study suggested that talc particles can travel through the vagina and the fallopian tubes and become deeply embedded in the ovaries, creating a cancer risk.

Although Dr. Cramer shared his findings with the company, rather than using this information to change its product – cornstarch is a good substitute for talc and many manufacturers, including J&J, market a cornstarch-based powder – Johnson & Johnson continued to produce and market its talc products to women. In fact, Johnson & Johnson refused even to add a warning to its label, despite the fact that Imerys started doing so in 2006.

Claims of no significant cancer risk “Outright false”

In 1997, Dr. Alfred P. Wehner was hired by the companies to evaluate a growing body of studies investigating the connection between genital talc use and the development of ovarian cancer. In a letter to J&J’s Manager of Preclinical Toxicology, Dr. Wehner advised that the company’s statement that talc presents no significant risk of cancer was “outright false.” He went on to warn J&J executives that to continue to deny scientific research to the contrary put the company at risk of being “perceived by the public like it perceives the cigarette industry: denying the obvious in the face of all evidence to the contrary.”

Johnson & Johnson continued to ignore its experts’ advice and did not warn women about the link between genital talc use and ovarian cancer.

Talcum Powder Material Safety Data Sheet

However, in 2006, J&J’s talc supplier made an unusual move, including a warning about genital talc use on its Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS). An MSDS is a document that provides health and safety information about products or materials that are classified as hazardous substances or dangerous goods. These sheets generally are attached to products supplied to manufacturers for the production of their products, and are intended to warn about any potential health risks to workers who have to handle the raw materials.

Even though there was essentially zero risk to Johnson & Johnson workers for genital exposure to talc, Imerys (known at the time as Rio Tinto Minerals) included a specific warning on its MSDS that “perineal [genital] use of talc-based body powder is possibly carcinogenic to humans (Group 2B).” The company even noted, “This is not a route of exposure relevant for workers and applies to one specific use of talc only.”

Including this warning indicates that knowledge about the link between genital use of talcum powder and the development of ovarian cancer was accepted science, enough so that the talc supplier felt obligated to note it on its official documents.

Experts now estimate that more than 100,000 women have died of ovarian cancer as a result of talc exposure.


  • Johnson & Johnson was given the results of a scientific study in 1982 that demonstrated a link between genital use of talcum powder products and the development of ovarian cancer.
  • In 1997, one of the company’s own consultants said it was lying to the public when it said there was no cancer risk from genital talc use. He warned J&J executives that the public would eventually learn the truth and the company would be perceived the same as the cigarette industry – “denying the obvious in the face of all evidence to the contrary.”
  • In 2006, Johnson & Johnson’s talc supplier felt the link between ovarian cancer and talc was strong enough that it included the warning on its Material Safety Data Sheet, a document intended primarily to protect workers who handle dangerous substances. They did this even though they specifically noted that workers were not likely to be exposed to talc in such a manner.
  • Experts now estimate that more than 100,000 woman have died of ovarian cancer as a result of talc exposure.

For more information about ongoing talc litigation, contact Beasley Allen by calling 800-898-2034 or fill out our contact form.

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