The Supreme Court on Tuesday rejected an appeal by Johnson & Johnson to overturn a $2 billion verdict in favor of women who claimed the company's talc product caused ovarian cancer.
The ruling leaves intact a Missouri court decision to award the women the sizeable sum after a jury found that the company's talc products contain asbestos and that asbestos-laced talc can cause cancer of the ovaries. The initial verdict was for $4.7 billion, but a Missouri appeals court reduced the award to $2 billion and dropped two women from the lawsuit.
The controversy stems from the fact that, in its natural state, talc is often found close to asbestos, a hazardous substance known to cause lung cancer when inhaled. When talc is mined in close proximity to asbestos, there is the potential for cross-contamination and traces of asbestos in talcum powder.
In its recall notice, Johnson & Johnson acknowledged the FDA had found "sub-trace levels of chrysotile asbestos contamination (no greater than 0.00002 [percent]) in samples from a single bottle purchased from an online retailer." The company added that it has a "rigorous testing standard in place to ensure its cosmetic talc is safe" and that "thousands of tests over the past 40 years repeatedly confirm that our consumer talc products do not contain asbestos."
But the company faces thousands of lawsuits from women who claim asbestos in the powder caused their cancer.
J&J told Reuters in a statement that there are unresolved legal issues that will continue to be litigated and previously said it faces more than 19,000 similar claims.
"The matters that were before the court are related to legal procedure, and not safety. Decades of independent scientific evaluations confirm Johnson's Baby Powder is safe, does not contain asbestos, and does not cause cancer," the company said.