$417 Million Awarded in Suit Tying Johnson’s Baby Powder to Cancer
By RONI CARYN RABIN
In what may be the largest award so far in a lawsuit tying ovarian cancer to talcum powder, a Los Angeles jury on Monday ordered Johnson & Johnson to pay $417 million in damages to a medical receptionist who developed ovarian cancer after using the company’s trademark Johnson’s Baby Powder on her perineum for decades.
Eva Echeverria, 63, of East Los Angeles is one of thousands of women who have sued the consumer products giant Johnson & Johnson claiming baby powder caused their disease, pointing to studies linking talc to cancer that date to 1971, when scientists in Wales discovered particles of talc embedded in ovarian and cervical tumors.
Only a few lawsuits have gone to trial, but so far most of the decisions have gone against the company. In May, a Missouri jury awarded $110 million to a Virginia woman, a year after Missouri juries awarded $55 million to one plaintiff and $72 million to a woman who died before the verdict. Another woman, Deane Berg of Sioux Falls, S.D., won a lawsuit, but the jury did not award damages.
In March, a St. Louis jury rejected a Tennessee woman’s claim that Johnson & Johnson’s powder caused her ovarian cancer, and a New Jersey judge dismissed two talcum powder lawsuits against the company, a company spokesman said.
Many women sprinkle baby powder on their inner thighs to prevent chafing, or use it on their perineum, sanitary pads or underwear for its drying and freshening effects.
Ms. Echeverria, who was too sick to testify in court and gave a videotaped deposition, started using Johnson’s Baby Powder when she was 11 and continued after being diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2007, unaware that some studies had linked talc to cancer, said her lawyer, Mark Robinson. She stopped using it after hearing news reports of a verdict in another lawsuit against Johnson & Johnson, he said, and now wanted to warn other women.
“She told me, ‘I’m not doing this for myself,’” Mr. Robinson said. “She knows she’s going to die. She’s doing this for other women. She wants to do something good before she leaves.”
A spokeswoman for Johnson & Johnson, Carol Goodrich, said the company would appeal the verdict handed up by a jury in the Superior Court of Los Angeles County and was preparing for additional trials. The company “will continue to defend the safety of Johnson’s Baby Powder,” she said.
“Ovarian cancer is a devastating diagnosis and we deeply sympathize with the women and families impacted by this disease,” Ms. Goodrich said in a statement. But she added, “We will appeal today’s verdict because we are guided by the science, which supports the safety of Johnson’s Baby Powder.”
The company statement pointed to a National Cancer Institute report in April that said, “The weight of evidence does not support an association between perineal talc exposure and an increased risk of ovarian cancer.”
But elsewhere, the cancer institute uses more ambivalent language, saying “it is not clear” if talcum powder increases the risk of ovarian cancer.
Though numerous studies have linked genital talc use to ovarian cancer, the research findings have not been consistent. They consist mostly of epidemiological or population studies, which cannot conclusively prove a cause-and-effect relationship between an exposure and later development of cancer.
But scientists have hypothesized that talc might lead to cancer because the crystals can move up the genitourinary tract into the peritoneal cavity, where the ovaries are, and may set off inflammation, which is believed to play an important role in the development of ovarian cancer.
The International Agency for Research on Cancer in 2006 classified talcum powder as a possible human carcinogen if used in the female genital area, but no federal agencies have acted to remove talcum powder from the market or add warnings.
Talc is a naturally occurring clay mineral composed of magnesium and silicon that is mined in proximity to asbestos, a known carcinogen, and the Food and Drug Administration asks manufacturers to take steps to avoid contamination with asbestos.
Talc is used in many cosmetics products, including one formula of Johnson’s Baby Powder; another formula uses cornstarch, which has not been implicated in any studies or lawsuits about ovarian cancer.
Freetown - On August 14, a mudslide killed more than 400 people in the mountain town of Regent on the outskirts of Sierra Leone's capital Freetown, sweeping away homes and leaving residents desperate for news of missing family members.
Here is what we know about it so far:
What happened and when? A hillside collapsed on Monday at 06:00 local time, causing a mudslide on the outskirts of Sierra Leone's capital of Freetown.
The mudslide occurred after three days of torrential rain.
The mudslide and rain overwhelmed Freetown's drainage system, creating waterways that churned down steep streets across the capital.
Mudslides overran several houses killing hundreds of residents, many of whom were trapped inside their homes.
Military personnel have been deployed to help rescue those still trapped.
According to Sierra Leone's president, an emergency response centre has been established in Regent.
Where did it happen? The flooding took place in the mountain town of Regent, on the outskirts of Freetown.
Located about 16km from the capital, the town of roughly one million people sits between the Atlantic Ocean and a range of hills.
Many people in Regent live in informal settlements on steep hillsides.
Could it have been prevented? A mudslide triggered by torrential floods is typically considered a natural disaster. The uprooting of trees for construction on the hillside is also known to have made the soil unstable and more vulnerable to collapse.
Many have questioned why the government has not done more to tackle the illegal construction of the overcrowded hillsides.
In Sierra Leone, storms and torrential downpours are common in August and September. In 2015, floods killed 10 people and left thousands homeless.
This year, Sierra Leone has seen 104cm of rain since July 1, which is three times more than expected during the rainy season according to the US National Weather Service's Climate Prediction Center.
Sierra Leone's meteorological department did not issue a warning to hasten evacuations from danger zones before the torrential rainfall between August 11 to August 14, AFP news agency reported.
The country's officials have warned against unregulated construction on the hillsides.
How many casualties? The death toll has risen to nearly 500. At least 109 children are among those who have been killed.
It is estimated that at least 600 people remain missing.
The morgue at Freetown's Connaught Hospital has been so overwhelmed by dead bodies that many of them have been left on the floor for lack of space.
Is it safe now? What is the latest on the ground? Aid agencies have warned that there is a risk of waterborne diseases such as cholera and typhoid spreading as more flooding is expected.
A local state of emergency has been declared.
Satellite images show extensive damage, with hundreds of buildings destroyed.
About 3,000 people are estimated to be homeless.
The Red Cross is struggling to excavate families buried deep in the mud that engulfed their homes.
What happened next? On Wednesday, President Ernest Bai Koroma's office promised "dignified burials" in the coming days.
The first of which is expected on Thursday at 3pm local time (15:00 GMT). However, according a local Freetown city council official at least 150 burials took places on Tuesday.
A week-long mourning was declared.
The International Organisation for Migration released $150,000 in emergency funds.
The government of Sierra Leone promised relief to thousands of people left homeless, opening an emergency response centre in Regent and four registration centres.
The UN said it was evaluating humanitarian needs in the country and that "contingency plans are being put in place to mitigate any potential outbreak of waterborne diseases such as cholera, typhoid and diarrhoea", according to spokesman Stephane Dujarric.
Turkey, the UK, Israel and the UAE vowed to send aid, including clean water, medicine and blankets.