Plaintiff Gloria Ristesund’s lawsuit could help predict whether the historic verdict reached in February was a fluke or the start of a trend. Roughly 1000 similar cases are pending in Missouri, with another 200 in New Jersey, and with J&J claiming roughly 19 percent of the nearly $18.8 billion baby powder market in the United States the products at issue represent a major business line for the company.
Ristesund claims she used J&J’s talcum-based powder for 40 years before being diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2011. Her attorneys have argued in court filings that J&J knew for decades that talcum powder posed a serious cancer risk, but that they withheld the information from the public in order to protect sales of popular products. They claim internal company documents show J&J specifically marketed the allegedly dangerous products specifically to African-American and Hispanic women despite knowing about scientific studies dating back to the 1970’s showing talc, a soft, absorbent naturally occurring mineral, is unsafe.
Today cornstarch is used instead of talc in most baby powder and feminine hygiene products following a 1999 advisory from the American Cancer Society suggesting women use cornstarch-based products. While J&J has offered cornstarch-based powder since 1970, they continue to also market talcum-based products, too.