Talc seems harmless enough. It is used in countless cosmetics and is a staple for infant care. Known as the “world’s softest mineral,” talc is mined from the ground like any other mineral. However, increasing evidence is showing that mined talc can be intermingled with asbestos. Recent court decisions throughout the country could be an indication of the addition of talc-related cases handled by attorneys practicing mass tort litigation defense.
Early concerns about talc safety focused on industry workers
Early on, the main concern centered on talc miners. Until 1981, a county in New York where talc mining was a major industry had one of the highest rates of mesothelioma in the United States for both men and women. A 2002 study found that “New York talc exposure is associated with mesothelioma, and deserves further public health attention” (Ann. occup. Hyg., Vol. 46, Supplement 1, pp. 132-135). Another concern is the use of imported talc from China and Pakistan, countries with questionable safety regulations concerning asbestos contamination. It should be noted that the U.S. government did not ban the inclusion of asbestos in talcum powder until 1973.
Take-home exposure gets the attention of a jury
In November of 2013, a New Jersey jury returned a $1.6 million verdict in what is believed to be the first verdict in the country holding a cosmetic talc company responsible for asbestos presence in its product (Kaenzig v. Charles B. Chrystal Company). Steven Kaenzig claimed take-home exposure to asbestos from the talc his father brought home from his job at Shulton Company in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Shulton used talc from Whittaker, Clark & Daniels to make cosmetic talcum powders for Old Spice, Desert Flower and Friendship Garden. During the trial it was shown that Whittaker Clark’s own tests revealed its talc to be contaminated by asbestos. In addition, an FDA study in 1972 showed a number of consumer talc products which used talc from Whittaker, Clark & Daniels contained asbestos.
Products containing talc come under the scrutiny of jurors
In October of 2016, a California jury awarded $18 million to a man diagnosed with peritoneal and pleural mesothelioma (Depoian v. American International Industries, et al., filed in Los Angeles Superior Court, No. BC607192). His attorneys successfully argued that Depoian was exposed to asbestos in talc products at a barber shop where his father worked and through his use of products including Old Spice, Clubman, Kings Men and Mennen Shave Talc. The jury verdict is believed to be the largest award on record for a mesothelioma claim linked to cosmetic talc exposure.
Here in Illinois, we saw an increase in cosmetic companies being named in asbestos exposure lawsuits in 2016. Plaintiff’s attorneys are now routinely asking their clients about their use of talcum based cosmetics during depositions. Based on the large verdicts we have already seen in talc-related cases, the trend will only continue in 2017 and beyond.
Getting more information about talc-related claims
The widespread use of talc in everyday consumer products could mean that we are only seeing the tip of the iceberg for mass tort litigation defense attorneys as far as talc-related claims filed by plaintiff’s counsel making their way into the court system. For more information about this and other mass tort litigation defense topics, contact Paul S. Steinhofer at McKenna Storer.