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Story highlights

Deposits of talc are often found near deposits of cancer-causing minerals

Studies have shown the risk of cross-contamination during mining

(CNN) —  

Johnson & Johnson and talc company Imerys SA must pay $117 million in damages to a couple after the husband, a New Jersey banker, got cancer after decades of using talcum powder.

The Middlesex County, New Jersey, jury ordered the companies to pay $80 million in punitive damages Wednesday. Last week, it awarded banker Stephen Lanzo $30 million in compensatory damages and his wife $7 million in damages.

Lanzo said he used Johnson & Johnson products like Shower to Shower and Baby Powder for more than 30 years, and he claimed that inhaling the powder caused his mesothelioma, an aggressive and deadly cancer that impacts the lining of the lungs.

Deposits of talc, one of Earth’s softest minerals, are often located near deposits of the minerals that constitute asbestos, and studies have shown the risk of cross-contamination during mining. Johnson & Johnson said its talc products do not contain asbestos, which, it noted, has been a legal requirement since the 1970s.

A batch of similar asbestos-related cases is making its way through the courts, with one set to go to trial in May in South Carolina. A jury in California found in favor of Johnson & Johnson in an asbestos-related case in November.

Lanzo’s case was the first to go to trial in New Jersey, the home state of Johnson & Johnson.

Johnson & Johnson and other talcum powder companies face thousands of separate but related cases that draw a connection between genital talc use and ovarian cancer.

The Lanzos’ lawyers accused the company of holding back information from its customers about the health risks of asbestos in its talc products since the 1960s.

Johnson & Johnson argued that it did extensive testing to make sure its products were not contaminated.

“Johnson’s Baby Powder has been used for more than 120 years and it does not contain asbestos or cause mesothelioma,” the company said in a statement Wednesday. “After suffering multiple losses through court rulings and at trial, plaintiff’s attorneys have shifted their strategy and are now alleging that talcum powder is contaminated with asbestos, despite multiple independent, non-litigation-driven scientific evaluations which have found that our baby powder does not contain asbestos.

“Throughout this trial, we were prevented from presenting evidence we believe would have been important to the jury in their deliberations, which forced us to file multiple mistrial motions. We will continue to defend the safety of Johnson’s Baby Powder and immediately begin our appeal, and we believe that once the full evidence is reviewed, this decision will be reversed.”

Gwen Myers, a spokeswoman for talc supplier Imerys, said in a statement last week, “Our hearts go out to those affected by all forms of cancer. We are disappointed by the jury’s decision, but we remain confident that talc did not cause Mr. Lanzo’s cancer. The evidence was clear that his asbestos exposure came from a different source such as the asbestos found in his childhood home or schools, and the jury’s decision is inconsistent with a recently published study of workers who mined and milled talc all day over the course of more than 50 years that did not find a single case of mesothelioma.

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“Imerys follows all FDA and other regulatory guidelines and utilizes rigorous testing to ensure that our talc meets the highest quality standards, and we are just as confident in the safety of our products as ever. We intend to appeal this decision and will continue to stand by the safety of our product.”