Is Talc the New Asbestos?

Summary Written By Cynthia DeWalt, CNA, Senior Ceded Re Claims Analyst

Practically every baby in America has been dusted with it and many adults use it on a daily basis to stay fresh and dry.  Talc is a clay-based mineral mined throughout the world.  It is made up primarily of magnesium, silicon and oxygen. Talc, classified in two general types – cosmetic and industrial - is used in many applications.   In cosmetic uses it can absorb moisture, prevent caking, make facial makeup opaque or improve the feel of a product.  Talc is also used in food preparations like polishing rice and the manufacture of chewing gum and pharmaceutical tablets.  But is talc making people sick? 

Early litigation focused on the purity of talc which originally contained asbestos as the two minerals are often mined near each other.  Asbestos, once thought to be the “miracle mineral”, has now been shown to be the cause of many diseases.  Since the 1970s, talc used in all consumer products has been required to be free of asbestos.

Nowadays, people are filing lawsuits against talc manufacturers over claims that talc exposure has led them to develop diseases such as mesothelioma or ovarian cancer.  Talc is being demonized in the media and these allegations are angering juries who are responding with huge verdicts.  As of May 2018, juries have awarded more than $900 Million to people who blamed talcum powder use for causing cancer.

If you are faced with a lawsuit involving talc, consider the advice provided at the recent AIRROC Education Day in Chicago.  During her presentation, toxicologist Dr. Annette B. Santamaria, cautioned defendants to look closely at the types of studies being cited by plaintiffs in prosecution of their claims.  The topic of talc safety is a growing debate in the scientific community.   Some studies have found talc causes an increased risk of disease while others have not.  The fact is that, to date there are no epidemiological studies showing any link between talc and cancer.

Jeffrey Odom, of Lane Powell advises there are several steps your defense counsel can take which may help win your case. First, consider the jurisdiction.  There are limits on where a defendant can be sued and jurisdiction can have a huge impact on a case.  Plaintiffs tend to file cases in venues which they know are sympathetic.  If there is no legitimate relationship between the defendant and the forum where the case is filed, counsel can work to get the case moved to a less plaintiff-oriented jurisdiction, to the federal level or possibly even get the case dismissed.

Another strategy for defense attorneys is to take the time to educate judges and juries with accurate scientific information.  Don't allow a jury to be captivated by unsubstantiated medical claims or their own false assumptions.  Take the opportunity to research and cite your own scientific data in support of your position.  Also, make the plaintiffs expert a defense expert!  Don’t be afraid to wade through the foundation and get them to help you prove your facts.  With your experts testimony calling out the lack of scientific proof, your position will be that much stronger.