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Johnson & Johnson has asked a federal judge to dismiss a recently filed class action lawsuit over Baby Powder, which alleged that side effects of their popular talcum-based product may increase the risk of ovarian cancer when women use it on their genital areas.
Barbara Mihalich filed a lawsuit against Johnson & Johnson in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Illinois on May 23, which seeks class action status for all consumers in Illinois who purchased Johnson’s Baby Powder. Mihalich seeks refunds for all women who purchased Baby Powder in Illinois, indicating that the manufacturer failed to disclose that talc contained in the powder may put them at a 33% increased risk of ovarian cancer.
On August 11, Johnson & Johnson’s attorneys filed a motion to dismiss (PDF), arguing that Mihalich was never injured and shows no damages in her claim, thus she should not be able to bring a class action lawsuit against the company.
The manufacturer notes that Mihalich does not have ovarian cancer and does not even state that she used the company’s products on her genitals.
According to allegations raised by Mihalich, Johnson’s Baby Powder has been marketed as a safe means of “eliminating friction on skin and absorbing moisture, while keeping the skin cool and comfortable.” The talc powder has been marketed not only for use on infants, but also for women to use anytime they want “skin to feel soft, fresh and comfortable,” according to the complaint.
Mihalich indicates that Johnson’s Baby Powder is not safe, as several studies have found that use of talc powder to a woman’s genital areas may significantly increase their risk of ovarian cancer. However, Johnson & Johnson argues that the one alleged risk only affects those who use it on their genitals.
“[T]alcum powder has dozens of beneficial uses that have nothing to do with that specific use, and Plaintiff never explains why eliminating that single use would render the product worthless or significantly inhibit its utility — for her or anyone else,” the motion states.
Baby Powder Cancer Risks
While Johnson’s Baby Powder is most commonly associated with use to prevent diaper rash or sooth skin, a number of women use the talc-based powder on their body after a shower. As a result of the popularity of this use, Johnson & Johnson and other manufacturers have sold similar products as a general body powder, including Johnson Shower-to-Shower powder.
Talc has been used as a body powder for a long time, but concerns have increased in recent years about the potential risk of ovarian cancer when baby powder is applied to the female genitals. Researchers have indicated that the baby powder may migrate through the vagina to the uterus, fallopian tubes and ovaries, with evidence of talc found within some ovarian tumors.
In June 2013, a study published in the medical journal Cancer Prevention Research indicated that women who used genital powder containing talc may face a 20% to 30% higher risk of ovarian cancer than those who do not. While the overall risk remains small, women have expressed concerns about why further research has not been done by the manufacturers and why warnings have not been provided about the possible health risks.
The International Agency for Research on Cancer, which is part of the World Health Organization, has classified genital use of talc powder as a “possible carcinogen,” and the American Cancer Society has indicated women concerned about the talcum powder cancer risk may want to avoid or limit use by considering cornstarch-based products.
In October 2013, a South Dakota jury found that sufficient evidence was presented during trial to establish a link between Johnson Shower-to-Shower body powder and ovarian cancer developed by a 56 year old woman who had used the product for several decades. During the trial, Harvard University’s Daniel Cramer testified that he has been looking into the links between talc and ovarian cancer for 30 years, and suggested that talcum powder may cause 10,000 cases of ovarian cancer every year.
A similar Baby Powder class action lawsuit was filed in California in April, seeking to force Johnson & Johnson to properly inform consumers about the potential health risks, including a significantly increased risk of ovarian cancer. Plaintiffs in that case allege that the manufacturer has known for decades about the risk of ovarian cancer, yet the only warnings indicate that users should avoid contact with eyes and keep the powder away from the faces of children to avoid inhalation.
In addition to the class action claims, a growing number of women are considering bringing individual talcum powder lawsuits after being diagnosed with ovarian cancer, claiming that the manufacturer placed their desire for profits before consumer safety by withholding the potential risk information from consumers.