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Case study ties asbestos-tainted talcum powder to mesothelioma

As we've discussed on this blog, thousands of lawsuits have been brought against Johnson & Johnson's baby powder and other products containing talc. Those cases allege that using J&J's talc-based products for routine hygiene caused mesothelioma or ovarian cancer. Unfortunately for the plaintiffs, it can be difficult to prove what specific product or practice caused a particular patient's cancer.

Now, there is some new scientific evidence available. A 33-patient case study recently published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine provides some persuasive evidence that talc-based products, when tainted by asbestos, can cause mesothelioma.

Asbestos is a type of naturally occurring fibrous mineral. Talc is also a naturally occurring mineral. Some evidence suggests that talc can become tainted with asbestos during the mining process. Whether J&J's products have been tainted with asbestos is open to question, but asbestos continues to be found in many talc-based products, like makeup.

Just last week, J&J announced it was recalling around 33,000 bottles of baby powder after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration found asbestos fibers in samples taken from a bottle of J&J Baby Powder purchased online.

Last year, Reuters reported that J&J knew for decades that some of its baby powder was tainted by asbestos. According to the report, J&J not only kept that information secret from the public and regulators, it even tried to cover it up.

J&J insists that its baby powder is safe and contains no asbestos. However, it has lost several cases and has been ordered to pay billions of dollars to mesothelioma and ovarian cancer victims. J&J is appealing the verdicts it lost, and points to several verdicts and appellate decisions in its favor.

New study could turn the tables on J&J

"This is the first time that anyone has said, 'Let me look at all these cases, put it all together and identify the ones where [talc] is the sole exposure,'" one of the study's authors told Time magazine.

She and her colleagues studied 33, mostly female, patients with malignant mesothelioma. They were selected for the study because their only substantial exposure to asbestos was through using talc-based hygiene products. In theory, this rules out other sources of the disease.

The patients were tested to see if they had been exposed to asbestos from other sources like building materials or insulation. The asbestos fibers found in the patients were consistent with the kind found in tainted talcum powder and inconsistent with other sources of asbestos. And, the patients said they had used talc-based hygiene products daily for decades.

This study is significant because it is among the first that ties cosmetic talc directly to asbestos and mesothelioma.

The study's authors hope it alerts the public to asbestos in some talc products so they may avoid cosmetic talc and minimize the cancer risk.

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