To mark 40 years since Fieldfisher first fought for a client affected by mesothelioma, the Industrial Disease Team share some of their memorable cases.
In the news recently is the stark story of the British women with cancer taking on the big US cosmetics firms in the courts as the risk of asbestos exposure from makeup becomes clearer
Apparently, at least 100 people who have developed mesothelioma are currently seeking compensation from US firms. Most are completely bewildered as to where and when they could have been exposed to asbestos dust, eventually coming to the conclusion it can only be from using makeup produced in the US.
Many of these cosmetics brands use talcum powder, which is absorbent, including in eye-shadow, foundation and blushers. Although talc is naturally occurring and by itself harmless, it can be contaminated with asbestos because of their close proximity when mined. In 2020, America's Food and Drug Administration tested 43 samples and found asbestos in nine.
The latest British figures show that nearly 600 women died from mesothelioma in 2020, a 7 per cent increase on the year before and higher than in any of the previous eight years. Cancer Research UK says the rate of new cases in women has doubled since the early 1990s, while increasing by about half in men. Not all of these cases of course are linked to talc in makeup, with so many women having been exposed at work, often as medics and teachers, or affected as children by the dust brought home from work by their father.
The US courts have been inundated with claims, with cases under investigation against brands including Estée Lauder and Clinique. Last year, Avon was ordered to pay $50 million to a mesothelioma victim aged 76 who claimed the company's cosmetics contained asbestos. The company is however appealing the claim.
Closer to home, I currently represent a women with peritoneal mesothelioma who worked in the beauty industry for many years. She both used cosmetic products herself and demonstrated them to others. Her case is ongoing.
I referred her case to lawyers in the US who have successfully recovered compensation against two companies out of court and are pursuing others through court proceedings. The US process if different to UK jurisdiction, but instructions and cross-examination have progressed via video calls, which have been helpful.
The list of brands that used contaminated products is shockingly long and not just limited to those used by women, but also widely used in male talcs such as Old Spice. Unfortunately, we can only expect more cases will arise as people develop this terrible disease and trace back their exposure to cosmetics and talc.
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