Several companies, including Johnson & Johnson and talc retailers Target and Walgreen Co., were hit with a lawsuit alleging the companies are violating a California law by not warning consumers that the products they manufacture or sell may expose them to known carcinogens.
According to the complaint filed by California resident Jan Graham, there are dozens of studies that show talc – which is used in talcum powder products such as Johnson’s Baby Powder and Gold Bond body powder – can cause cancer because the mineral can become contaminated with carcinogens including lead, arsenic and hexavalent chromium. By not warning consumers of these risks, the pharmaceutical companies and retailers are violating the California state law known as Proposition 65, or Prop 65, the suit alleges.
According to Law 360, Prop 65 “requires businesses of all kinds to put cancer warning on their products if their ingredients might expose customers to known carcinogens.” The California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) notes that Proposition 65 was initially enacted in 1986 to protect the state’s drinking water, and is officially known as the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986. The agency says “Proposition 65 requires the state to maintain and update a list of chemicals known to the state to cause cancer or reproductive toxicity.”
“By including these carcinogens and reproductive toxins in the specification for ‘talc,’ the industry has misleadingly marketed talcum powder products as containing pure talc and has actively and knowingly taken steps to conceal the presence of [carcinogens] from consumers,” Graham said in the complaint. “The industry has done so with a profiteering motive, knowing that full disclosure would lead to significant loss in sales and, even more likely, the removal of talcum powder products from the market.”
Graham’s lawsuit is seeking an injunction to force the companies that deal with talc to include a Prop 65 cancer warning on the products. Graham is also seeking unspecified damages.
Johnson & Johnson is already facing thousands of lawsuits that allege exposure to its talcum powder products have caused cancer, including ovarian cancer and mesothelioma, a rare form of cancer caused by asbestos exposure.
In October, J&J issued a recall of one lot of its iconic baby powder after testing by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) revealed the talcum powder was contaminated with asbestos, a known carcinogen. Many retailers recalled additional lots of the powder “as a matter of precaution and to prevent customer confusion.”
Beasley Allen lawyers Ted Meadows and Leigh O’Dell are heading up the team handling claims of ovarian cancer linked to talcum powder use for feminine hygiene. Sharon Zinns, who works in Beasley Allen’s Atlanta office, is leading a team handling mesothelioma claims. They are looking at cases of industrial, occupational and secondary asbestos exposure resulting in lung cancer or mesothelioma; as well as claims of asbestos-related talc products linked to mesothelioma.