Many scientific studies show that asbestos can cause cancer that emerges sometimes decades after exposure. A rare and aggressive cancer, mesothelioma is almost exclusively caused by asbestos exposure. Asbestos can also cause lung disease as well as other types of cancer. 

There are 5 recognized types of asbestos. These are Crocidolite, Amosite, Anthophyllite, Tremolite and Actinolite. The mineral talc in its natural form does contain asbestos and causes cancer, but asbestos-free talc has been used in cosmetics since the 1970’s. While Johnson and Johnson(J&J) insisted on the safety and purity of their baby powder, an investigation shows that the manufacturing giant has been aware of the fact that the tremolite asbestos was in their talcum powder since the year 1971. 

While use of asbestos is allowed if it accounts for less than 1% of the product, when companies lie about the percentage or even presence of the compound, this can be deadly. Notes from a meeting on July 8, 1971 between representatives of J&J’s research division in Brunswick, New Jersey and the FDA unveils that J&J knew that there were particles of asbestos in their talcum powder. At the meeting, the research representatives with Dr. Nashad from J&J discussed a review of their analytical method of detecting asbestos in the talcum powder. 

While some studies link talc to cancer risk, there are concerns that  the studies rely on people remembering how much talc they used years before. Further, there are other factors that may cause cancer besides just asbestos contamination

What Is Talcum Powder? 

What is the J&J Talc Litigation? 

10 facts you need to know

A bottle of Johnson's baby powder
  1. The focus of the J&J litigation in question is their talcum powder product. Talcum powder and asbestos are often found together naturally in the earth and mined talc can sometimes be contaminated with carcinogen. Talc deposits are often laced with asbestos. J&J bought a cluster of talc mines in Vermont in the 1960’s. The company used the Vermont mine’s Hammondville deposit as its primary source of baby powder talc from 1966 until 1990. 
  1. The J&J talc was contaminated with tremolite. The company’s memos asked about tremolite, a compound commonly found in asbestos, and were warned about adverse effects of the baby powder from doctors. In 1992 after J&J sold their Vermont mines, the new owner referenced past tremolite in its talc reserves. A Rutgers University geologist confirmed that she found asbestos in the company’s Baby Powder, identified in her 1991 published study as tremolite “asbestos” needles. 
  1. The powder has been linked to cancer. The J&J talcum powder litigation seemingly began when the talcum powder became linked to cancer. They have faced lawsuits over this from as early as the late 90’s. Darlene Coker is seemingly the first to file suit against J&J after a pathology report determined a lung tissue sample of hers contained thousands of “long fibers” of four different types of asbestos consistent with exposure to talc containing chrysotile and tremolite contamination. Coker later passed away from mesothelioma.
  1. J and J knew the powder contained carcinogenic asbestos. Reuters examined internal documents from J&J in 2018 and found that that the company’s talcum powder was sometimes tainted with carcinogenic asbestos and further that the company hid this information from the public.
  1. J and J denied the claim. J&J denied claims that asbestos was in their talcum powder. From the very first accusation, from Darlene Coker they claimed there was no asbestos, not even small amounts in their products. 
  1. J and J hid this information. J&J assured the FDA that there was no asbestos detected in any sample of the talk produced between December 1972 and October 1973. J&J didn’t tell the FDA that at least 3 different labs from the years of 1972 to 1975 had found asbestos in its talc, and that some levels of the asbestos were reported to be “rather high”
  1. Lawsuits arose. 90’s: Johnson and Johnson denied talc test results and avoided disclosing other internal company records that plaintiffs requested. Because plaintiffs hold the burden of proof in a civil lawsuit, in the late 90’s, the individuals that sued J&J for causing their cancers could not prove their allegations.
  1. The lawsuit revealed the truth. 2018: Two decades later, the talc results and documents that plaintiffs have sought for years are finally being disclosed as 11,700 plaintiffs now claim that the company’s talcum powder caused their cancers. 
  1. Documents show J&J lied. Deposition and trial testimony as well as similar investigations has shown that from at least 1971 through the early 2000’s that the company’s raw talc and finished powders sometimes tested positive for small amounts of asbestos. Not only did the company lie about the asbestos, top executives of the company knew about this problem while failing to disclose it to regulators or the public. 
  1. Documents show J&J shaped research in their favor through sponsored studies. A study from the 1970’s shows how J&J commissioned and paid for studies, told researchers their desired results, and hired ghostwriters to redraft the article that presented the findings in a journal. These studies influenced the entire industry, while J&J dispelled any cancer concern associated with exposure to their talc products. J&J physician executives were also in charge of the study although this connection was not disclosed.
  1. The industry now. The American Cancer Society has since revised its website to reflect the new evidence from the J&J trials. The website notes that WHO classifies talc that contains asbestos as “carcinogenic to humans”.

What Phase Is The Litigation In Now

A bottle of baby powder on its side spilling powder out

There are private cases all across the country, as well as a class action case under a district judge in New Jersey that make up over 19,000 plaintiffs. These lawsuits are filed by consumers and their survivors claiming that the talc products caused cancer due to contamination with asbestos, which is a commonly known carcinogen.

There have also been investigations by 41 states as well as a congressional inquiry. Inquiries revealed that they knew for decades that its product contains asbestos. 


The most notable class actions have received verdicts of $4.7 billion, $117 million, $110 million, $70 million, $55 million and $26 million. 

  1. $4.7 Billion Verdict for 22 women (July 2018) - One notable case against J&J is a Missouri court case from 2018. 22 women brought the case against J&J with Missouri as the forum. The jury found that J&J’s talcum powder causes ovarian cancer in 22 women. The jury originally gave the plaintiffs $4.7 billion in damages. The Missouri Court of Appeals then reduced the amount to $2.2 billion and then subsequently $2.1billion.
  2. Joanne Anderson v. Johnson and Johnson Et Al-25.7 million verdict (May 2018) - In May 2018, A Los Angeles jury awarded compensatory damages in the amount of 21.7 million and 4 million in punitive damages to 68 year old Joanne Anderson. Anderson claimed the frequent use of J&J’s baby powder caused the disease. J&J was ordered to pay 2/3rds of the award and other talc companies were ordered to pay the other third.
  3. Stephen Lanzo v. Johnson & Johnson- $117 Million Verdict - In April 2018, a New Jersey jury awarded $80 million in punitive damages and $37 million in compensatory damages to investment banker Stephen Lanzo and his wife. Mr. Lanzo claimed he contracted mesothelioma after more than 30 years of using J&J’s baby powder and shower products. Lanzo alleged these products contained asbestos which caused his mesothelioma. While J&J claimed the locations caused Lanzo’s cancer, the jury disagreed, awarding Lanzo and his wife $117 million dollars. J&J appealed the judgment but a New Jersey state judge upheld it. 
  4. Lois Slemp v. Johnson & Johnson-$110 Million Verdict (May 2017) - In May 2017, a St. Lewis jury awarded $110 million to Lois Slemp from Wise, Virginia. Slemo alleged that using J&J’s baby powder and shower to shower products for over 40 years caused her to develop ovarian cancer that spread to her liver. Slemo alleged there was asbestos in the J&J product that caused this. $105 million of the full amount were punitive damages.
  5. Gloria Ristesund v. Johnson & Johnson- $55 Million Verdict (May 2016) - In May 2016, a Missouri jury awarded Gloria Ritesund $55 million after she used J&J baby powder and shower to shower products on her pelvis area for decades. 

Why Is It Important 

A bottle of baby powder on its side spilling powder next to a stethoscope

The litigation has become important to protect victims and to prevent J&J from withholding information such as this that can take so many lives. The World Health Organization and other authorities recognize no safe level of exposure to asbestos. Even small amounts can trigger cancer even years after exposure. 

Despite investigations revealing that J&J knew for decades that its products contained asbestos, J&J has repeatedly said its products are safe and do not cause cancer. 

The lawsuits have forced the company to remove their talcum based baby powder from the market which means less chance of consumers possibly developing cancer from the now widely understood asbestos contamination in the J&J product.

Much like the opioid litigation however, where Purdue continued to sell their products with similar marketing techniques on a global scale, fears are that the world is still at risk from J&J’s asbestos contaminated talcum powder.

The company continues to deny liability, and relates that they only took their talcum powder off the shelves since there is lower demand due to lawsuits. The company also relates that this lower demand is due to “misinformation” about the product’s safety. J&J continues to state that their decision to discontinue the talcum based baby powder is not connected to any investigation or lawsuit. The lawsuits are meant to prove a point to other companies as well that endangering the public with a contaminated product will have serious and lasting consequences. 

Who Has It Affected

A doctor asking a patient questions and filling out paperwork on a clipboard with his stethoscope on top of the papers

The litigation affects those who now have cancer after being exposed to J&J’s talc products. Cancers caused by asbestos in talcum powder include mesothelioma and ovarian cancer. One prime example of this was Darlene Coker who was one of the first. Darlene had mesothelioma, a rare cancer often related to asbestos. She was aware that this cancer affected mostly men working in mines, exposed to the carcinogenic asbestos before its risks were fully understood.

Coker ran a massage school in Texas and was not aware of how she could have been exposed to asbestos. Coker then hired a personal injury attorney, Herschel Hobson. Hobson had worked in mines himself and knew firsthand how dangerous asbestos could be.

Together, the two investigated what the cause of her injury was and honed in on the possibility of the talcum powder Coker had used on her infant children and herself her whole life. From his work experience, Hobson knew that talc and asbestos occurred together and that mined talc could be contaminated with carcinogen because he used to work in mines himself. 

Coker soon sued Johnson and Johnson alleging that the company’s talcum powder caused the cancer that would end her life. J&J denied this claim and their initial response was that the product was asbestos free. The company was able to avoid disclosing test results and other internal company records that attorney Hobson had requested against the Baby Powder. 

Coker had no choice but to drop her lawsuit, but two decades later all that information was compelled and subsequently disclosed. The materials that Coker fought for revealed facts that asbestos was in their products and their initial claims were false. In fact, the company’s raw talcum and other finished powders did test positive for small amounts of asbestos. 

If you are a consumer like Darlene Coker, and have developed cancer due to exposure to talcum powder, you should reach out to The Cochran Firm to get help with your case. 


Contact a Cochran Firm attorney if you have been affected. Call 1 (888) 671-5973 for a confidential call with an intake specialist or visit to complete a form so we can walk you through the confidential process. 


What is Talcum Powder?