How Are Texans Affected by Talcum Powder Injuries?

Michael GrossmanAugust 25, 2016 5 minutes

Even considering the hundreds of talcum powder claims that have so far been filed, the ubiquitous nature of this consumer product suggests that there are probably thousands more that are not yet reported. When a manufacturer is accused of the degree of negligence currently associated with Johnson & Johnson about its baby powder and other talcum products, which could affect thousands of people, it's important to spread awareness of the issue.

The gist of the company's supposed wrong-doing is that it allegedly failed to properly test and market talcum. Worse than that, plaintiffs suggest that Johnson & Johnson ignored or suppressed studies that emphasize its contribution to the development of ovarian cancer.

It may be hard to take the word of a law firm about the gravity of these allegations; I get that. I'm not exaggerating, however--earlier this year, a jury awarded an Alabama woman $72 million dollars, as well as finding Johnson & Johnson guilty of conspiracy and fraud. Those charges related to the company's history of downplaying or arguing with medical studies linking the talc to cancer. It was demonstrated with a preponderance of evidence that the company's executives had made the conscious choice to conceal the information from the public, lest it affect sales.

Quite rightly, women were unwilling to stand by and suffer. The Alabama woman, Jacqueline P. Fox, was one of many women stricken with ovarian cancer who jointly filed against Johnson & Johnson in June of 2014.

Talcum Filed Action
Opening statements of the motion filed for 65 women afflicted with ovarian cancer. To read the complete document, click the picture.

It's hard to pin down exactly how many women are afflicted. Given talcum's availability since the late 19th century, coupled with regular use of the products by generations of women, it's probably safe to say that thousands of women were and are affected.

As of February, approximately 1,200 talcum claims from all around the country are pending in the centralized courts of Missouri and New Jersey. Each one of those cases represents the claim of a woman who allegedly developed ovarian cancer after long-term use of talcum powder.

In a nation of over 310 million, 1,200 people may not sound like much, but keep in mind that thousands were likely stricken by talc-related cancers before the connection was identified. Moreover, that's still 1,200 too many.

If you apply some quick arithmetic, 1200 / 50 states = 24 injured women per state. Naturally, the numbers wouldn't break that cleanly; some states will face greater numbers, and some fewer.

Let's look at how many Texan women could be affected.

Where the Numbers Come From

Let me first be clear: These are just estimates, derived from the known number of talcum-related personal injury claims and starting with an assumption of even distribution throughout the population. The majority of registered ovarian-cancer claims originate with women who have used the product for at least a decade, which means that Texas' younger population might mean fewer cases in Texas than in other states. However, given that the Texas climate encourages talcum powder usage, it might swing the pendulum in the other directions.

Certainly, this isn't a rigorous statistical model, but rough calculations are useful when trying to understand a problem this big. 1200 people in the United States may not sound like a big deal, but 28 women potentially suffering injuries in DFW alone from this product hits much closer to home. I won't be able to pin down precise numbers here, but I can estimate the general impact of talcum injuries here in the Lone Star State.

So How Many Texans Could Be Injured by Talcum Powder?

Here's how I'm pulling the numbers out:

  • We'll use our estimate of 310 million people in the U.S. Assuming equal distribution of population between states (which is silly--we'll address that next), 310 million / 50 states = 6.2 million people.
  • There may be room for the buffalo to roam and the deer/antelope to play, but Texas definitely has more than 6 million cowpokes within its border. To get a better number, I consulted census data.
    The most recent census estimate was in July of 2015 with 27,469,114 people. I'm going to call that 27.5 million to make the math a little cleaner.

  • 27.5 / 6.2 = 4.44 times as many Texans as the initial "equal state populations" division indicated.
  • The number of Texan talcum injuries we got was 24. If you recall, that was also based on "equal shares," but with 4.44 times the population, it follows that Texans would have 4.44 times more injuries.
    So 24 x 4.44 = 106.56, which we will call 107.

That's 107 Texan women suffering from ovarian cancer in the current suit. Undoubtedly many others also exist, and haven't come forward about their injuries.

Texas Talcum Injury Map
Basic distribution map of talcum injuries based on projections below.

That may not seem like a lot of people, until you factor in the additional gravity of the affliction in question: ovarian cancer. Treatment for this disease is long and arduous, with long-term effects that could seriously diminish these women's quality of life.

The issue has raised some mention in the news, and it has been a legal matter for a few years, but given the scope and seriousness of the condition, it's surprising to see how little importance it seems to have been granted.

I guess the phrase "ovarian cancer" isn't good sound-bite material next to "Kardashian surgery scandal."

Talcum Injuries in Texan Population Centers

Instead of showing my work again, I'll just say that to arrive at these numbers I expressed each city's census data as a percentage of the state's total population. Then I applied that percent to the 107 total injuries to find out how many of them could reasonably be in each city.

Here's the top 5:

  1. Dallas-Fort Worth: 28
  2. Houston: 26
  • San Antonio: 9
  • Austin: 8
  • El Paso: 3
  • The remaining 33 cases are scattered across Texas' hundreds of thousands of less-populous miles, with one or two cases each in cities like Midland, Beaumont, Brownsville, Abilene, Lubbock, and others.

    What Does All This Mean?

    While the number of Texan women injured by talcum powder may appear low, it should not be underestimated as an issue--especially given the possibility of many, many other undeclared claims. There are an estimated 22,280 cases of ovarian cancer in the United States every year, resulting in 14,240 deaths. Given that the injury in question is a life-changing and disease with a 64% mortality rate, those statistics take on a grimmer aspect. What's more, plaintiffs allege that Johnson & Johnson took an active hand for decades in hiding medical study results correlating talcum use with ovarian cancer. That's no Act of God; if true, it's a deliberate attempt by an industry titan to make more profit by not fully disclosing the risks of its products.

    If a product is possibly carcinogenic, it is a company's duty to disclose that possibility. Johnson & Johnson obstinately refuses to make those changes to its label, even though it has lost several high-profile ovarian cancer cases. With plaintiffs' allegations of negligence confirmed by juries several times over at this point, the company should consider changing its tune.