FairWarining Reports

Colgate-Palmolive Suffers Courtroom Loss in Asbestos-Talc Powder Case

Cashmere Bouquet talcum powder

Colgate-Palmolive sold Cashmere Bouquet talcum powder from the late 1800s until 1995. Several lawsuits assert that, in decades past, Colgate got its talc from mines contaminated with asbestos, resulting in some users of the powder contracting mesothelioma, a deadly cancer predominantly caused by inhaling microscopic asbestos fibers. Colgate says Cashmere Bouquet was not tainted by asbestos and did not cause any harm.

Colgate-Palmolive Co. was ordered to pay $12.4 million in damages to a woman with a deadly form of cancer after a Los Angeles jury found that an asbestos-contaminated talcum powder was the main cause of her disease.

The case was then settled today for an undisclosed amount as jurors were about to consider tacking on punitive damages for plaintiff Judith Winkel and her husband, John Winkel. Winkel, 73, of Santa Barbara, suffers from mesothelioma, a lethal type of cancer predominantly caused by asbestos exposure.

The two-week trial in Los Angeles Superior Court was the first to weigh allegations that, in past decades, the talc in Colgate’s popular Cashmere Bouquet powder came from asbestos-contaminated mines, and that inhalation of asbestos fibers from the powder might have caused some mesotheliomas among victims who had no other significant asbestos exposures. Winkel said that she regularly used the dusty powder from about 1961 to the mid-1970s. New York City-based Colgate, which staunchly denied that Cashmere Bouquet was tainted by asbestos, sold the brand in 1995.

“Colgate was disappointed with the jury’s verdict,” said company spokesman Tom DiPiazza in a statement to FairWarning. He said the evidence showed that Cashmere Bouquet “played no part in causing the plaintiff’s illness. In order to avoid devoting resources to continuing litigation through the appeals process, the parties have entered in a confidential settlement.”

Judith and John Winkel declined to be interviewed.  But Chris Panatier, one of their lawyers, said the risk posed by contaminated powders “is something that is coming to light due to the legal system. It should have come to light due to the company being honest in the ’60s and ’70s about the fact that they were finding asbestos in their talcum powder.”

Talc, the softest of minerals, is widely used in cosmetics, pharmaceuticals and even as a food additive. Companies that use talc say it is free of asbestos or that asbestos is below detection limits. Over the years, however, some talc has been mined from deposits interlaced with asbestos. In some cases, talc suppliers have paid settlements or damages to factory workers who used industrial-grade talc and contracted asbestos-related illnesses.

However, lawsuits over the cosmetic-grade talc in body powders are recent. In what appears to be the only other case to go to trial, a New Jersey jury in November 2013 awarded $1.6 million to a mesothelioma victim who blamed his illness on asbestos fibers tracked home by his father from a job at a plant where Old Spice and Desert Flower powders were produced. That verdict was against the talc supplier Whittaker, Clark & Daniels, Inc.

Several other suits are pending against Colgate alleging harm from Cashmere Bouquet. The company has said in court papers that “over ten other actions’’ have been dismissed.

The cases are distinct from a wave of claims against Johnson & Johnson, which charge that feminine hygiene use of its talc powders caused ovarian cancer. As reported by FairWarning, about 700 such claims are pending against the company and its talc supplier Imerys Talc America, Inc. These cases don’t challenge J&J’s assertions that its powders are asbestos-free, and claim that talc is responsible for the harm. J&J and Imerys say talc powders are perfectly safe.

The Winkels’ lawyers presented evidence that they said proved that during the years Judith Winkel used Cashmere Bouquet, Colgate got talc from mines in Montana, North Carolina and Northern Italy that were known to be contaminated.

In highly technical arguments, attorneys for Colgate contended that minerals found in the mines were not in fibrous form and, hence, were not asbestos and did not pose an inhalation hazard. In her closing statement, Colgate lawyer Faith E. Gay noted that health studies of workers at one of the mines did not turn up a single case of mesothelioma, despite the workers’ “massive daily exposure” to the talc.

“Cashmere Bouquet did not harm Mrs. Winkel,” she said. There was a “clear absence of proof connecting any disease to our product.”

Jurors did not agree, and took only about two hours to reach their verdict.

In all, they awarded damages of $13,033,000 for past medical bills and other economic losses, and for pain and suffering and reduced life expectancy. Colgate was held 95 percent responsible–or for about $12.4 million. The remaining 5 percent of damages was spread among four other firms that used asbestos products to which Winkel might have been exposed at home or work.

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Myron Levin - FairWarning

About the author

Myron Levin is editor of FairWarning.

3 comments to “Colgate-Palmolive Suffers Courtroom Loss in Asbestos-Talc Powder Case”

  1. Carolyn M. Hyland King-Collier

    My mother died of uterine cancer! She never drank or smoked ever! She used Cashmere Bouquet ever since I can remember being a child! She used it under arms, über breasts and on top of them and her private parts and on all of our sheets and linens always! She was 48 years old in 8/18/1972 !! The few attorneys that I have contacted have said that there is a statute of limitations on this situation of abestos in mines where Colgate Palmolive got the talc powder from is the cause of her cancer! I say they only are letting people know now, and they were not aware of it then! I say what can be done to get this right in. Some fashion! Call me at 913-579-1506 my name is Carolyn Hyland King-Collier I live in Olathe Kansas 66061!!!!
    I am needed help! Please!!!!!!!!!

  2. Gloria

    My mother died in1989 from overian cancer she use cashmere bouquet every since I were older enough to no her I use it to as a teen in 2005 I had a hysterical because I were having problem my mother continue use the product until she died not known it were dangers

  3. doug baldwin

    I myself regularly use talcum powder for, well, never mind, but this whole topic makes me….twitchy. The article does not specifically say, but I assume there was no dispute that asbestos was found by testing in samples of Cashmere Bouquet. Thus, apparently, the main argument was whether or not this asbestos, as found in the product, was of a type and in a quantity to do harm? If that was the argument by Colgate, seems like a hard one to get a jury to buy, and apparently….the jury didn’t. That argument also adds insult to injury: Colgate and such product manufacturers all preach their product purity over competitors and demand that we, the beloved consumer, admire, want, insist on their glorious safe purity and then in court its a whole different story. Hello! They can’t have it both ways.

    The article very nicely notes the defense argument that the asbestos at the mines wasn’t fibrous. Not comforting. I especially like the article notes the defense claimed that health studies of workers at “one of the mines” hadn’t turned up any asbestos issues. Not comforting either. The additional point here, beyond asbestos, is if you live by preaching certain aesthetic and health values of purity and thoughtfulness and care to the consumer, then you die by that sword also. Everyone knows that if you even hint that there might possibly be some small, insignificant, distant, never mind what the hell connection between the talc in the product and asbestos, no sane person will buy it. And that is a rightful, fair fear and choice by the consumer. Colgate knew it, and so they decided, for their selling purposes, to take that knowledge and choice out of the hands of the “mindlessly fearful” consumer. They allow the consumer to believe they are buying a pure product with all the goodness of that purity because that is what sells and that is what they must market.

    Jury decisions by grownup consumers like this are important, because we consumers all believe such fudging of our products goes on all the time, along with the attendant manipulation of our desires and needs for the sake of consumer sales. Fair Warning’s entire existence is here to defend against that behavior, and this case is the perfect example of that fudging and manipulation. Yet despite all the fudging that has been caught, there seems to be no end to it. Which must mean these penalties, like the many multi billion dollar penalties to Wall Street banks recently, actually don’t…really… hurt….not enough to stop the behavior. Which, I suppose, will keep Fair Warning in business forever.

    Now, where did I put my talcum powder, I feel a sweat breaking out.

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