The recent record-setting $18 million verdict out of California rekindled the hotly debated link between talcum powder and mesothelioma cancer.
A Los Angeles Superior Court jury awarded Philip Depoian the multimillion-dollar verdict against talc supplier Whittaker, Clark & Daniels.
Depoian claimed the company’s asbestos-tainted talcum powder products used at the barbershop where his father worked exposed him to the deadly substance.
He was diagnosed with mesothelioma, an aggressive cancer caused by asbestos exposure, in May 2015.
Talcum powder is made from talc, one of the world’s softest minerals coveted for its ability to improve textural feel and absorb moisture. Unfortunately, talc deposits often are interwoven with asbestos fibers.
The lawsuit accused Whittaker, Clark & Daniels of marketing its talc as asbestos-free without adequately testing for traces of the toxic mineral.
The company supplied talc for several popular consumer talcum powder products, such as Desert Flower, Old Spice and Friendship Garden, in the ‘60s and ‘70s. The talc in those products originated from some asbestos-contaminated mines in North Carolina, Alabama and northern Italy.
After a six-week trial, the jury reached the verdict on Oct. 19, finding Whittaker, Clark & Daniels 30 percent at fault for Depoian’s injuries. However, before the jury could decide on punitive damages, the plaintiff agreed to a confidential settlement with the company.
Depoian’s case is the largest jury award for mesothelioma linked to talcum powder. These types of claims rarely go to trial. Most cases settle out court, but a few notable rulings preceded Depoian’s case.
In May 2015, Judith Winkel won a settlement with Colgate-Palmolive Co. after she claimed asbestos in the company’s Cashmere Bouquet product led to her mesothelioma.
Court records showed the California resident regularly used the popular scented talcum powder from 1961 to 1976. The jury awarded Winkel $13 million in damages, but the case was settled out of court for an undisclosed amount as jurors considered tacking on punitive damages.
Officials for Colgate-Palmolive later rejected the jury’s verdict, saying their talcum powder product is safe and did not cause Winkel’s cancer. The trial determined the company was 95 percent responsible for her diagnosis.
Depoian’s case also isn’t the first asbestos exposure claim against Whittaker, Clark & Daniels.
The family of Long Island resident Joan Robusto won a landmark $7 million verdict against the company in November 2015 in New York’s first asbestos contaminated consumer talcum powder trial. Robusto died of mesothelioma as a result of her longtime use of Desert Flower.
A 2013 ruling awarded a $2 million verdict to a New Jersey woman with mesothelioma. Court records showed her father worked at the factory that produced Old Spice and Desert Flower talcum powders, which blanketed his work clothes.
When he returned home without changing his outfit, he unknowingly exposed his family to the asbestos-laced talc that remained on his clothes.
Robusto’s case is a classic example of secondhand asbestos exposure.
While occupational asbestos exposure remains the leading cause of mesothelioma, asbestos fibers inadvertently carried home from the workplace pose a significant threat for asbestos-related diseases, especially among women and children.
It’s not clear if talcum powder still contains asbestos.
While heavily used before the mid-1970s, talc products are still sold today. The natural mineral can be found in many pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, chalk, rubber and ceramics.
The debate on its safety continues today.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) tested dozens of talc-containing cosmetic products for traces of asbestos in a 2012 study. The report found no asbestos fibers or structures in any of the samples; however, the results were limited because only four talc suppliers submitted samples.
“For these reasons, while FDA finds these results informative, they do not prove that most or all talc or talc-containing cosmetic products currently marketed in the United States are likely to be free of asbestos contamination,” the FDA concluded.
Cosmetic-grade talc is not subject to regulation under the FDA’s Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act of 1938. While the industry has made efforts to use asbestos-free talc in products since the mid-1970s, no U.S. laws prohibit talc used in consumer products from containing asbestos.
The majority of claims involving asbestos-laced talcum powder are associated with ovarian cancer, not mesothelioma.
Occupational studies as early as the 1960s showed toxic asbestos fibers can accumulate in the ovaries of some women, potentially leading to cancer. While researchers say asbestos exposure increases the risk of developing ovarian cancer, there are still inconsistencies regarding exposure pathways.
Some researchers suspect the use of talc products on the genitals could be to blame.
Typically, asbestos exposure occurs when someone inhales or swallows asbestos fibers. These pathways are almost exclusively the cause of mesothelioma, and can also lead to other respiratory diseases such as asbestosis and asbestos lung cancer.
No amount of exposure is considered safe, but repeated, long-term exposure puts people at a higher risk.
Peritoneal mesothelioma, a type of mesothelioma that develops along the lining of the abdomen, has been misdiagnosed as ovarian cancer.
Studies have also raised health concerns for asbestos-free talcum powder.
A 2013 study from the American Association for Cancer Research showed talcum powder without asbestos is associated with a 20-30 percent increase in risk of developing epithelial ovarian cancer.