J&J Facing Wrongful Death & Asbestos Claims in Latest Talc Cancer Trials

Jane Akre
October 6, 2017

Shawn Blaes

Mesh Medical Device News Desk, October 6, 2017 ~ The trial of a St. Louis area women, who died from ovarian cancer allegedly caused after decades of using Johnson & Johnson talcum powder, is set to begin this month.

This will be the sixth talcum-cancer trial in St. Louis against defendant J&J, maker of Shower to Shower and Baby Powder.


The family of Shawn Blaes, from Webster Groves, a neighborhood in St. Louis County, Missouri, is the sole plaintiff in an October 16, 2017 product liability trial against Johnson & Johnson.

Blaes, 50, died of ovarian cancer January 12, 2011 after decades of using J&J's talcum powder for genital hygiene. She was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in October 2008.

She had been married for 25 years to husband Mike, was the mother of twin boys. She loved her golden retrievers and figure skating.

Blaes was one of the three plaintiffs whose claims ended in a mistrial in St. Louis Circuit Court in June. Judge Rex Burlison declared the mistrial in the early stages of the June action because the U.S. Supreme Court had just issued a decision on the Bristol Myers Squibb (BMS) case.

The Court rejected a California court jurisdiction over claims by out-of-state litigants against out-of-state defendants. Critics had called it "venue shopping" or "judge shopping" to seek the most favorable outcome.

Shawn Blaes and family, St. Louis Post-Dispatch

See Mesh News Desk story on the BMS decision here.

Blaes is from Missouri but the two other plaintiffs were non-residents from Virginia and Texas.

St. Louis has become the hub for talc-ovarian cancer litigation.

Courtroom View Network covered the first trial.

This will be the sixth civil lawsuit in St. Louis claiming that talcum powder used in the genital area causes ovarian cancer. Four of the five previous trial awarded the injured plaintiffs more than $300 million in damages. J&J has appealed those jury verdicts.

Just last August, plaintiff Eva Echeverria was awarded $417 million after taking her ovarian cancer case against Johnson & Johnson before California jurors. Mesh News Desk story here.

She will likely never see any of the compensation. J&J has appealed, and Echeverria has end stage ovarian cancer.


Tuesday, Oct 10, 2:30 pm ~ Judge Simpson in the talcum powder mesothelioma case being heard in California, granted a mistrial after the plaintiff, on the stand Friday, mentioned the much-litigated connection between talcum powder use and ovarian cancer.

According to pre-trial motions, that mention was omitted from the case. Not to be deterred, a new jury selection is planned for Monday, October 16, with opening arguments to begin Thursday, October 19. Courtroom View Network will carry the proceedings. Subscription required here.

Tina Herford claims her use of Johnson & Johnson (J&J) Baby Powder and Shower to Shower (also made by J&J) from 1956 to 1993 led to the development of mesothelioma.

This is the first case to claim that cancer was caused from breathing in talc powder contaminated with asbestos. The other plaintiffs in both St. Louis and California, have claimed that genital use of talcum powder for feminine hygiene, caused their ovarian cancer.

Herford claims Johnson & Johnson knew about the risks associated with its talc products as did talc supplier Imerys Talc America.

Both J&J and Imerys claim their talcum powder is free from asbestos, generally litigated in insulation material cases. J&J talks about the Safety of Talc here.

One other trial has also introduced evidence of asbestos in talcum powder. Herford is expected to last through October, at least.

Herford is represented by Chris Panatier of Dallas-based Simon Greenstone Panatier Bartlett PC. He represented another plaintiff in a similar case in 2015 against Colgate-Palmolive over its Cashmere Bouquet body powder. That case resulted in a $12.4 million award.

There is other precedent for these arguments. A Los Angeles jury awarded $18 million to a man who said he developed mesothelioma after exposure to talc brought home from his father's barber shop. That case was against American International Industries.

Industrial talc in the workplace resulted in a $2.86 million verdict to the family of a man who died of cancer. The defendant there was American Optical Corp. Vanderbilt Co. Inc was ordered to pay $10.55 million for the wrongful death of another plaintiff in a New York case.

The Herford case will be the first time J&J has been brought into the asbestos debate.

Tina and Douglas Herford v. AT&T Corp., et al, No. BC646315 Calis Superior Court.

J&J website


As is often the case, these trials must show there was a viable alternative.

In the case of talc, cornstarch is an organic carbohydrate quickly broken down by the body. In fact, the J&J website now offers three of four baby powders made from cornstarch with no talc. There is no warning next to the products on the website.

Talc is mined around the world.

Imerys, which mines talc for J&J, assures users that there is no toxic effect , that talc dust is "inert," and that there was no excess of lung cancer or any other type of cancer among the personnel working in plant operations in Italy, France and Austria.

Imerys adds that cosmetic-grade talc is “safe for personal use.”

Talc is also used to make cosmetics - blushers and eye shadows and for powder cosmetics and even teeth whitening and anti-dandruff shampoos and biodegradable coffee capsules. (Want to avoid dangerous cosmetics? See Environmental Working Group Skin Deep database on safe cosmetics).

There were, and continue to be, no warnings on the talcum powder made by J&J. Imerys shipment of talcum powder is accompanied by a Material Safety Data Sheet, (MSDS) which did warn of the ovarian cancer hazard associated with perineal talc use.

Law firm, Beasley Allen, displays on its website, two talc products – one purchased from Dollar Tree store – Angel of Mine Baby Powder – and another from Walmart – Spring Fresh Powder.

Both have explicit warnings on the label!

“Frequent application of talcum powder in the female genital area may increase the risk of ovarian cancer,” and “Medical evidence suggests that women who use talcum powder as a feminine hygiene product run a greater risk of developing ovarian cancer.”

J&J still has no warning on its baby powders.


The complaint says the company should have known about the link between ovarian cancer and talcum powder in 1971 when the first study was conducted by Dr. WJ Henderson in Wales.

By 1982, the first epidemiological study was conducted by Dr. Daniel Cramer which found a 92% increased risk in ovarian cancer among women using talc for genital use. Twenty-two additional studies since then have reported an elevated risk for ovarian cancer associated with genital talc use in women, according to the plaintiffs’ complaint.

Talc was found to be a carcinogen in a 1993 study by the US National Toxicology Program, whether it was found with or without asbestos-like fibers.

Since 2006, the International Association for the Research of Cancer, part of the World Health Organization, has classified perineal use of talcum body powder as a Group 2B human carcinogen. Among women using talc genitally, IARC found an increase in ovarian cancer risk from 30 to 60%.

More than 14,000 women die every year from ovarian cancer which is very difficult to detect and has a low survival rate. There is no known cause but the American Cancer Society says, “some cancer-causing substances may enter the body through the vagina and pass through the uterus and fallopian tubes to reach the ovaries."

This would explain how removing the uterus in a hysterectomy or blocking the fallopian tubes such as in a tubal ligation affects the ovarian cancer risk.

There are 2,500 pending talc lawsuits against Johnson & Johnson in Missouri and another 300 cases filed in California.

A year ago, the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML) established MDL No. 2738 in New Jersey to consolidate the growing number of talcum powder/ovarian cancer cases around the country. ###


Bloomberg- Toxics Law Reporter

Imerys Talc

EuroTalc, Scientific Association of European Talc Producers


Material Data Safety Sheet


MND, Supreme Court Decision Forces Talc Plaintiffs out of MO Court, September 20, 2017

St. Louis Record, June 22, 2017, Due to high court ruling, mistrial declared in talc case against J&J

Blaes, Fourth Amended Complaint August 14, 2017

Huff post on talc situation

Time Magazine, April 2016, Profiting from the myths about black women’s bodies

Research George Washington University on Black Women and personal products, 2015

African-American women are four time as likely to use vaginal deodorants, Project Muse, 2011, Advertising & Society Review, Vol. 11

Environmental Working Group, Skin Deep Database

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