Global mining conglomerate Rio Tinto is being sued by cancer patients, who say talc supplied by the company caused them to develop ovarian cancer. The case, which was filed in Louisiana, is one of the first to name a mineral supplier alongside Johnson and Johnson as Defendants.
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In their lawsuits, four women and one surviving husband say that repeated use of Johnson and Johnson’s baby powders led to the growth of potentially-fatal ovarian tumors, according to The Sydney Morning Herald. The talc “at issue,” court documents report, was mined and sold by Rio Tinto’s former subsidiary, Luzenac America. While Rio Tinto sold its interests in Luzenac back in 2011, the women say their exposure to the product began well before that year.
It’s a story that has played itself out numerous times, generating mountains of briefs, depositions and court filings. More than one thousand women have now filed Johnson and Johnson baby powder lawsuits, accusing the company of concealing decades of research on talc’s potential link to ovarian cancer. But the introduction of Rio Tinto, a mineral supplier, as co-defendant is a novel wrinkle.
The new cases, filed in Louisiana, claim that Johnson and Johnson had a legal duty to warn consumers, especially women, of talcum powder’s association with ovarian cancer rates. The global healthcare giant failed to uphold that duty, the women say, but so too did Rio Tinto. In court records, Plaintiffs say that Rio Tinto and its subsidiary Luzenac America “failed to inform […] consumers and end users of [talcum powder’s] known catastrophic health hazard.”
Talcum powder has been a mainstay in American households for a century. Once used exclusively to prevent diaper rash, the soft dusting powder soon became a staple in women’s feminine hygiene routines as well. Some women, including recent Plaintiffs, have attested to dusting their vaginal areas with talcum powder tens of thousands of time.
Even so, it has come as a shock to many consumers that medical researchers were worried about the safety risks of talc as early as the 1970s. In 1971, clinicians in England found talc particles embedded deep in ovarian cancer tumors. Theories that talc could reach the ovaries, via the vaginal canal, and irritate organ tissue followed soon after. Over the next four decades, researchers around the world turned up evidence that talcum powder could, in fact, increase the risk for ovarian cancer.
Neither Johnson and Johnson, nor Rio Tinto, made any of this information available to consumers, according to the new Louisiana lawsuit. “All of the defendants have been aware for nearly forty years of independent scientific studies linking the use of their products to the increased risk of ovarian cancer in women when used in the perineal area.”
Since February 2016, two ovarian cancer lawsuits have resulted in major jury verdicts against Johnson and Johnson. One survivor and one surviving husband have been awarded a total of $172 million in damages. In the cases, two separate state court juries in Missouri decided that Johnson and Johnson had failed to warn consumers of critical scientific research – sparking a wave of litigation in the process.
Most of the anger, and almost all of the lawsuits, surrounding talcum powder’s potential link to ovarian cancer has been confined to the United States. But the implication of Rio Tinto, a company with mining interests in Australia, India, Canada and Guinea, has women around the globe considering lawsuits of their own.
Almost unheard of in the US, Rio Tinto is well-known to residents of Australia, where the company is a major employer. In response to the lawsuit, news of which was broken in Australia by the Sydney Morning Herald, national campaign group Ovarian Cancer Australia told women to take talcum powder out of their feminine hygiene routine. New Zealand news outfit Stuff reports. In a public statement, Ovarian Cancer Australia wrote:
“Ovarian Cancer Australia cannot comment on the details of the case in the US overnight. However, we recommend women stop using talcum powder [on their genital area] if possible.”
Around 50% of Rio Tinto’s global assets are located in Australia. Meanwhile, American women who contracted ovarian cancer after using talcum powder may still be eligible to file a Johnson and Johnson baby powder lawsuit.