A jury in California recently awarded $29 million to a woman who claimed that Johnson & Johnson brand talcum powder contained asbestos that caused her cancer.
The verdict came down in state superior court in Oakland, California. It’s just one of more than 13,000 active lawsuits that J&J is facing around the country related to its talc-based products.
The plaintiff, Terry Leavitt, used J&J brand products, including their baby powder and “Shower to Shower” talc-based powder through the 1960s and 1970s. She was diagnosed with mesothelioma—a form of cancer caused by asbestos—in 2017.
During the trial, dozens of experts gave testimony both for the plaintiff and in support of J&J. After two days of deliberation, the jury delivered its verdict, in which they determined that J&J’s talc powder products were defective. The jury also concluded that the company negligently failed to warn consumers of the products’ health risks; however, the jury decided not to award punitive damages against the company. Instead, they found that J&J is liable for $29.4 million in compensatory damages to Ms. Leavitt and her husband.
Counsel for Ms. Leavitt say that the verdict—and the documentary evidence—show that J&J knew about the risk of asbestos in their talc-based products, but that the company worked over decades to cover up the truth, conceal the health risks and deceive the public and consumers.
In December of 2018, the news outlet Reuters published an investigation that showed J&J was aware that the talc in its powder products had tested positive for asbestos. These positive asbestos test results were found starting in the 1970s and through until the early 2000s. In its story, Reuters reported that J&J did not disclose these findings to regulators or to consumers.
Imerys Talc America, the manufacturer of the talc powder that supplied J&J’s products, has filed for bankruptcy from the weight of these talc-based lawsuits. They were initially named as a co-defendant in Ms. Leavitt’s trial; however, they were dropped from the lawsuit by the presiding judge in light of their bankruptcy protection.
In response to the jury’s verdict, J&J denies that their talc-based products contain asbestos and cause cancer. In support of its claim, the company cites scientific studies that show that its baby powder and other talc products are asbestos-free, as well as determinations by governmental regulators clearing the safety of these products.
J&J said that it plans to appeal the decision. The company cited what it calls “serious” evidentiary and procedural errors in the case and in during the trial. J&J further maintains that the plaintiff failed to prove that their baby powder product contains cancer-causing asbestos.
Ms. Leavitt’s case is the first of dozens of lawsuits against J&J for their talc-based products that are scheduled to go to trial this year. To date, there have been 11 total cases alleging asbestos contamination in J&J talc products; only three have resulted in verdicts in favor of the plaintiffs. One case awarded more than $4.6 billion in damages in a multi-plaintiff case alleging that J&J’s talc products caused ovarian cancer.
The company has appealed all of the cases that awarded verdicts in favor of the plaintiff, and it maintains that its products are safe and pose no health or safety risks.
Bayer Settles 90% of U.S. Essure Claims for 1.6 Billion
About 90 percent of the more than 39,000 lawsuits filed against Bayer over Essure injuries have been resolved by a $1.6 billion settlement. Bayer said in a statement that the settlement resolves most filed and unfiled cases and that it continues to work with plaintiff’s lawyers to resolve the remaining cases.
FDA Actions and Essure Injury Complaints
The settlement comes after years of complains of adverse events involving the metal coils which are placed in the fallopian tubes. Some of these complaints say that the coils can perforate the tubes, tear the uterus, and that the coils can break causing little metal shards to migrate elsewhere in the body. Women have also complained of heavy bleeding, pain, and other side effects that the patients were forced to undergo hysterectomy.
In 2018, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration placed restrictions on the device and required patients to review the Patient- Doctor Discussion Checklist and sign prior to being implanted with the birth control device. Bayer made the decision to stop selling Essure in the United States not long after citing declining sales.
Post-Market Surveillance Reports
The required 522 study, a post-marketing surveillance plan, was also extended by the FDA from three to five years. The FDA published the first spreadsheet of Essure adverse events on August 11, 2020, which includes events that Bayer knew or learns of during the period of November 2016 to November 2020.
The first spreadsheet includes more than 1,400 events including pain, device fragments, pregnancy, and organ perforations, including 1376 reports of serious injury, 53 reports of death and 24 reports of malfunction.
Essure Lawsuit Settlement
Many of the plaintiffs alleged in court filings that Bayer knew or should have known about the risk of adverse events, including organ perforation, device breakage, and device migration. They also allege that Essure birth control was improperly design and can break and migrate after being implanted. They accused Bayer of misrepresenting the efficacy and safety of the contraceptive device and Women who suffered Essure injuries alleged in court filings that Bayer concealed the risks and dangers of the device from the FDA, the medical community and from the women who relied on the device.
Many of the terms of the settlement are confidential, and Bayer did not admit to any wrongdoing in the court filings.
The Ties Between Roundup and Cancer
Roundup is a weed killer used on farms throughout the United States. However, studies have been done which show this is a dangerous product with many side effects. One of those side effects is cancer, which can be fatal. In fact, numerous lawsuits have been filed against Monsanto, the maker of Roundup.
Types of Cancer Caused by Roundup
Much research has been done to link Roundup to certain types of cancer. One of the most well-known is Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. However, it is also tied to several others, including:
- Renal cell carcinoma
- Skin tumors
- Hairy cell leukemia
- Various types of lymphoma
- Chronic lymphocytic leukemia
- Pancreatic islet cell tumors
There is also some support that Roundup may cause damage to DNA and chromosomes. Some believe it may also create a higher risk for Parkinson’s disease.
What is Roundup?
Roundup is a weed killer manufactured by Monsanto since the 1970s when it was first introduced. It was so successful at killing weeds without harming the crops that it has become the most widely used product for weed control throughout the world.
Monsanto is also one of the engineers of seeds, and it has developed crops that are resistant to glyphosate, the active ingredient found in Roundup. Farmers can spray the fields with Roundup and not hurt the crops while getting rid of weeds.
The weeds have developed a resistance to glyphosate, which means the product must be sprayed more heavily. This has caused a higher exposure to the product for farmers.
Numerous studies have been released on the risks associated with Roundup and other weed killers. One such study was done by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), and they looked at five different pesticides to determine if they could cause cancer. From the research conducted, glyphosate was labeled as probably carcinogenic for people.
The studies came from agricultural exposure of people in the US as well as in Canada and Sweden. There was also evidence that the ingredient in Roundup could cause cancer in lab animals.
More research is being done to determine what levels of exposure can increase the risk for developing these types of cancer. The US Environmental Protection Agency conducted their own study in 1995 and labeled as probably carcinogenic for humans. The agency has changed its position and now states that it is not a carcinogen. In fact, it says Roundup is low toxicity if it’s used as directed.
The EPA drafted another assessment in December of 2017 that went even further to say there was no toxicity towards animals – even birds within their normal environment.
More than 800 lawsuits have been filed against Monsanto since the IARC report was released. They are claiming that the manufacturer should have warned users about the risks of using the product instead of promoting it as safe.
According to many of the claimants, they did not wear protective clothing and gear when spraying Roundup. In fact, some of them were directly exposed when the spray accidentally got on their skin. People from all over the country have been exposed, on large agricultural farms and in small backyards.
While Monsanto is the producer of Roundup, which is the top-used pesticide in the world, it is not the only company that manufacturers weed killers with the same active ingredient. However, lawsuits claim that it is not just the glyphosate that is the cause of the cancers. It is the mix of other ingredients, such as animal fats, that increase the carcinogenic properties of the chemical.
The situation is not a simple one as many other reports show a different view. In fact, over 800 studies have been done to show the safety of glyphosate, according to Monsanto. One such agency, the European Chemicals Agency, stated that the ingredient is not classified as carcinogenic. Other reports from Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Europe and even the United States support that claim.
The first trial against Monsanto was held in California with a verdict coming in August 2018. The verdict was for $289 million but was reduced to $78 million. It did hold the manufacturer responsible for a plaintiff with Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Punitive damages were also awarded.
The second trial, which was also the first federal trial also provided a victory for the plaintiff with payment of $80 million ordered. More lawsuits will likely be forthcoming given the verdicts already received.
Monsanto still maintains that the pesticide is safe for use on weeds when label instructions are followed.
The Dangers of Roundup to Humans
Roundup has been used in many applications to control the growth of weeds. This herbicide was developed by Monsanto and is used on farms, in residences and in commercial applications. While it has proven effective at killing weeds, it is often at the center of controversy for increasing the risk of cancer.
Glyphosate and the Risk
Glyphosate is the active ingredient in Roundup. It kills off most plants by inhibiting their metabolic pathways. While some studies have indicated that the chemical is relatively safe and does not cause cancer or increase the risk, others have provided information that indicates otherwise.
An added issue with Roundup is that it may contain other ingredients which are not listed. Some of these ingredients may increase the toxicity of glyphosate and be even more dangerous than the active ingredient.
A study by the World Health Organization came to the conclusion that glyphosate could be carcinogenic and is linked to several cancers, including non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. The study admits that more research is needed to determine the level of risk. However, this study did lead the US Environmental Protection Agency to conduct its own investigation into the weed killer.
Other Dangers of Roundup
While the focus is on whether Roundup can cause cancer or increase the risk of developing certain types of cancer, other claims have been made against the weed killer. There are varying degrees of reliability of these studies and claims, but they are interesting to note.
- Chronic kidney disease – a study indicated the possibility of a link between Roundup and kidney diseases for farmers who worked and lived in Sri Lanka
- Complications with pregnancy – increased risk of birth defects
- Colitis – glyphosate may suppress natural bacteria
- Alzheimer’s disease – glyphosate may cause neural cell death which is found in those with the disease
- Parkinson’s disease – glyphosate may damage brain cells, which are linked with the disease
Even though Roundup is used in various applications, the main concern is for those with a higher level of exposure, such as is found in the agricultural industry. However, landscapers also face a higher risk if they used the product on a daily or regular basis.
GMO and Roundup
As Roundup proved to be quite effective against weeds, Monsanto sought to increase its use for farmers with GMO seeds. These seeds were genetically modified to be resistant against glyphosate. This allowed the farmers to spray the crop fields liberally without worry about their plants.
Tests have been done which show that some of these products contain glyphosate, such as corn, soybeans and canola. While there have been minimal indications that this level of exposure would cause any health concerns, it does show the power of the product.
Even though the company has been hit with numerous lawsuits, Monsanto still maintains the safety of its product when used as directed. It has cited the report from the EPA as evidence which backs its claims.
The manufacturer has also listed other government agencies around the world which support claims of glyphosate’s safety. It has worked to discredit the report by the WHO agency, the International Agency for Research on Cancer by saying it was “junk science.”
However, lawsuits continue to be filed against the company for its use of Roundup and failure to provide adequate warnings of the dangers of the product. In August of 2018, the first trial against Monsanto came to a conclusion with the jury awarding $289 million in damages to a former groundskeeper who had been diagnosed with cancer.
Monsanto appealed the decision, but the judge ruled in favor of the plaintiff and awarded $78.5 million. While the amount was reduced, the verdict stood, which has led the way for new lawsuits to be filed against the company.
A second trial concluded in March 2019 with the jury awarding $80 million to the plaintiff against Monsanto. A third trial is set for a decision in May 2019, which could have long-lasting effects. Over 11,000 lawsuits have been filed, which could be combined into one federal case.
Even those who used Roundup without the proper protection may challenge the manufacturer because advertisements stated that the weed killer was safe to spray without gloves. This indicates that exposure to the skin should not carry any risk.
More research is being conducted with new studies released to either support the use of glyphosate in pesticides or to warn against such use. The controversy will continue as more lawsuits against Monsanto reach verdicts.
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