Imerys is a large company that mines and supplies minerals, including talc, for products like baby powder. Talc often contains asbestos, and many of the products made from it have exposed consumers to this harmful mineral. The company has faced numerous lawsuits over cancer resulting from asbestos-contaminated talc and filed for bankruptcy in 2019.
Imerys History and Asbestos
Imerys is a French company that operates worldwide and supplies several industries with specialty minerals. They own mines and provide minerals to companies involved in manufacturing, food and beverage, ceramics, chemistry, metals, and personal care products.
- The history of the company dates to 1880, when the Rothschilds founded a metal mining company known as Peñarroya. It remained a standalone company for nearly 100 years. In 1970, the company’s name became Imetal.
- In the 1970s, it began acquiring other companies and focused on three areas: building materials, industrial minerals, and metals processing.
- By 1999, the company put all its efforts into industrial minerals and changed its name to Imerys. It acquired Luzenac, the world’s largest talc producer, in 2011. Imerys continued acquiring other businesses and mines around the world.
- Imerys supplies a significant amount of talc to companies like Johnson & Johnson for personal care products, like baby powder.
- Imerys owns the largest talc mine in the U.S., an open-cast mine in Three Forks, Montana.
- Imerys’s North American subsidiaries have faced lawsuits along with Johnson & Johnson over asbestos in talcum powder and related hygiene products. While Imerys has consistently denied its talc contains asbestos, the subsidiaries filed for bankruptcy in 2019 due to the cost of lawsuits.
Imerys S.A. remains a large multinational corporation today with headquarters in Paris. It operates in more than 40 countries and has over 16,000 employees. Its subsidiary Imerys Talc American continues to face asbestos liabilities.
How Did Imerys Use Asbestos?
Unlike many companies with asbestos liabilities, Imerys did not make any asbestos products. Lawsuits against Imerys have been related to asbestos found in natural talc.
Imerys did not have a major issue with asbestos until it acquired Luzenac. Talc and asbestos are both natural minerals and sometimes occur in the same deposit. When mined, talc may contain some traces of asbestos that end up in consumer products.
Luzenac, as the world’s largest producer of talc, has been involved in mining and supplying contaminated talc. Any of its mines could potentially produce talc with asbestos, including the large talc mine in the U.S. in Three Forks, Montana.
Who Is at Risk of Exposure to Asbestos from Imerys?
One of the most common products made with talc is talcum powder. When consumers use the powder, they inhale the small particles. Talc is harmless, but if there are asbestos fibers in the powder, the user might develop cancer later.
Talcum Powder and Mesothelioma
If talcum powder contains asbestos, inhaling the dust could lead to tissue damage and mesothelioma or even lung cancer. Asbestos is a known carcinogen. If it is in talc, which Imerys had denied, talcum powder could cause cancer. Those at greatest risk used talcum powder daily for many years.
Talcum powder products are supposed to be free of asbestos. Manufacturers have a responsibility to ensure this. Yet, studies have found that many of the products do contain asbestos, including a study conducted by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2020.
Talcum Powder and Ovarian Cancer
Most of the asbestos lawsuits Imerys faces are from women who developed ovarian cancer. Decades of use of talcum powder with asbestos in it may cause ovarian cancer.
Researchers have studied the link with mixed results. Some studies show that talcum powder use does increase the risk of ovarian cancer. There are two possible explanations. One is that talc causes inflammation. Another is that contaminating asbestos causes cancer.
Imerys Bankruptcy Over Asbestos Liabilities
Because it acquired Luzenac, Imerys faced over 15,000 lawsuits over asbestos exposure and talc-related cancer. This forced Imerys’s North American subsidiaries (Imerys Talc America, Imerys Talc Vermont, and Imerys Canada Inc.) to file for bankruptcy in 2019.
In 2020, Magris Resources Canada bought Imerys Talc for $223 million. Under the bankruptcy plan, that money goes into a trust to compensate victims. Approval has been delayed because of voting issues.
One major opponent of the plan is Johnson & Johnson. The company makes talcum powder and has also faced lawsuits over cancer. Johnson & Johnson denies any liability in these asbestos cases and worries that the Imerys Talc bankruptcy plan will push more litigation to the pharmaceutical company.
In 2022, Imerys had a court win against insurance companies trying to get the bankruptcy plan dismissed. The court will allow the company to continue negotiating for the creation of a trust that would involve funding from the insurers.
Asbestos Lawsuits Against Imerys
If the bankruptcy plan eventually goes through, claimants will be able to seek compensation through the established trust fund. Before bankruptcy, thousands of talc users filed lawsuits against Imerys Talc and others, including Johnson & Johnson. The company struck the deal to sell its U.S. subsidiaries as a way to resolve the claims.
- $5.5 million for 22 ovarian cancer victims. A jury found Johnson & Johnson liable for $4.7 billion to 22 women who developed cancer after using Baby Powder. Imerys was a part of the lawsuit and settled with the plaintiffs before trial, agreeing to pay $5.5 million.
- $2.5 million for ovarian cancer. A St. Louis jury found Imerys liable for a California woman’s ovarian cancer. Deborah Giannecchini won a $70 million verdict for her stage 4 cancer. Most of the liability went to Johnson & Johnson, but the jury assigned $2.5 million in damages to Imerys.
- $25 million for pleural mesothelioma. Most of the lawsuits involving Imerys include plaintiffs with ovarian cancer. One case from New Jersey involved a man who developed mesothelioma. Stephen Lanzo inhaled talc for decades when using talcum powder daily. A jury awarded Lanzo $117 million, with Imerys paying $25 million of the total.
- $1.5 million for mesothelioma. In another case that involved mesothelioma, Ann Zoas alleged her rare cancer came from using Johnson & Johnson Baby Powder. The company, along with Imerys, settled with Zoas for $1.5 million in 2019.
What to Do if You Were Exposed to Asbestos in Talcum Powder
If you used talcum powder products and now have symptoms or a diagnosis of mesothelioma or ovarian cancer, contact an asbestos lawyer. Your situation may involve many companies that supplied, processed, and sold talc, including Imerys.
A lawyer can review your case and provide legal options for seeking compensation. The situation with Imerys and Johnson & Johnson is complicated. There may be a trust fund in the future for filing claims, but right now, lawsuits are the best way to get settlements or jury awards.Get Your FREE Mesothelioma Packet
Page Written by Mary Ellen Ellis
Mary Ellen Ellis has been the head writer for Mesothelioma.net since 2016. With hundreds of mesothelioma and asbestos articles to her credit, she is one of the most experienced writers on these topics. Her degrees and background in science and education help her explain complicated medical topics for a wider audience. Mary Ellen takes pride in providing her readers with the critical information they need following a diagnosis of an asbestos-related illness.
Page Edited by Patient Advocate Dave Foster
Dave has been a mesothelioma Patient Advocate for over 10 years. He consistently attends all major national and international mesothelioma meetings. In doing so, he is able to stay on top of the latest treatments, clinical trials, and research results. He also personally meets with mesothelioma patients and their families and connects them with the best medical specialists and legal representatives available.