Australian mining giant sued over alleged link between talcum powder and ovarian cancer.

Australian mining giant Rio Tinto is being sued in the US by ovarian cancer sufferers who allege their use of talcum powder sourced from Rio Tinto’s mines led to their cancer.

Fairfax Media reports all five women were diagnosed with ovarian cancer between 2011 and 2015 and all used the products Johnson Baby Powder and Shower to Shower to “dust her perineum for feminine hygiene purposes.”

Rio Tinto’s wholly owned subsidiary Rio Tinto Minerals Inc has been named alongside US healthcare product giant Johnson & Johnson in the cases filed in the US state of Louisiana.

Since February two women in the US have won damages claims totalling $172 million in separate cases after juries found their use of talcum powder had led to their terminal ovarian cancer.

In one of the trials in St Louis an attorney representing Johnson & Johnson admitted company executives had known about the links between its talcum powder products and ovarian cancer for years, but decided the risk was not significant enough to require a product warning.

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Since February two women in the US have won damages claims totalling $172 million in separate cases after juries found their use of talcum powder had led to their terminal ovarian cancer. Via IStock.

These new cases allege Johnson & Johnson, Rio Tinto Minerals and Luzenac (its then wholly owned talc subsidiary Luzenac America) "failed to inform its customers and end users of its products of a known catastrophic health hazard associated with the use of its products".

"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.

"Luzenac America Inc and Rio Tinto Minerals Inc supply customers with materials safety data sheets for talc. These material safety data sheets are supposed to convey adequate health and warning information."

While Rio Tinto did not comment a spokeswoman for Johnson & Johnson told Fairfax Media they "continue to defend the safety of Johnson's Baby Powder".

"Multiple scientific and regulatory reviews have determined that talc is safe for use in cosmetic products and the labelling on Johnson's Baby Powder is appropriate," the spokeswoman told the newspaper.

Mining for talc. Via Facebook.

Earlier this year Mamamia spoke to scientific advisor of The Australian Cancer Council about whether there is a relationship between talcum powder and cancer?

He said, based on the scientific evidence available, no.

“A jury might be outraged if a single case of cancer could be avoided,” Professor Stewart explained. “But a court of law, in this context, involving damages is the last place one expects to find objectivity concerning medico-scientific matters.”

“The positive evidence is very weak when taken as a whole. Some studies show no effect and some studies show an association which is inverse – which means those with the lightest use of powder has the greatest increase in risk – which isn’t what you’d expect,” he says.

“There may be an association between powder use and cancer – but it’s not causal.”

Professor Stewart says there might be a confounding factor involved such as a lunch cancer study in Europe.

“A few years ago some research showed an increased risk of lung cancer in women who had breast implants in Norway and Scandinavia. But it turned out that women who have breast implants are 4 times more likely to smoke,” he said.

Professor Stewart says public health authorities have to provide appropriate advice and “the current advice has to be: the evidence doesn’t justify telling the community to change practice”.

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