Jean-Claude Mas Sold Breast Implants Made Industrial-Grade Silicone, the Kind Used In Cookware

What Women Really Think
Dec. 23 2011 9:39 AM

The Man Who Sold Sketchy Breast Implants

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A French doctor shows a breast implant produced by PIP (Poly Implant Prothese), Jean-Claude Mas's company.

Photo by SEBASTIEN NOGIER/AFP/Getty Images

Why don’t we know more about Jean-Claude Mas? Mas is the chairman and founder of the French company Poly Implant Prothese (PIP), which appears to have sold defective silicone breast implants all across the world. The implants, which were used in France, the United Kingdom, Spain, Italy, Brazil, Argentina, and many other countries (though not the U.S.), were apparently made with industrial-grade silicone (the sort normally reserved for “computers” and “cookware,”) instead of the more expensive medical-grade silicone they’re supposed to be made with. They rupture at an alarmingly high rate (about 10 percent, twice the average), French authorities say, causing inflammation in the body. France’s National Cancer Institute has been looking into whether the implants are linked to cancer, and is supposed to disclose the results of its inquiry on Friday. The French government is also expected to decide whether to tell as many as 30,000 women with the implants to remove them.

One patient quoted by the Associated Press, Emmanuelle Maria, experienced burning sensations and "globules of silicone gel...protruding into her armpits" when her PIP implants exploded.

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The extent of this problem is still unfolding. Mas’s company at one time claimed to be the third largest provider of implants in the world; a 2007 press release I found boasted that the company’s products sold in 65 countries. (Another press release boasted, creepily, that the company was “committed to innovation in implant products.”)

And yet very little is available on the company’s 72-year-old founder, at least in English-language news sources. PIP, which Mas started in 1991, was shut down in 2010, and, according to Reuters, he has since “disappeared from public view.” A plastic surgeon who knew him has claimed that Mas’s previous line of work, fittingly, was as a butcher, and that he had no past medical experience. The plastic surgeon added that he personally didn’t use Mas’s implants because they were so cheap he suspected they were of low quality. Meanwhile, an attorney for Mas was quoted in the New York Times as saying that there’s no evidence that the company’s substandard creation “even if it was unapproved, is dangerous for health.” As this harrowing story unfolds it’s hard to imagine we won’t learn more about the Frenchman who may have have sacrificed women's health for the sake of his greed.

Libby Copeland is a writer in New York and a regular Slate contributor. She was previously a Washington Post reporter and editor for 11 years. She can be reached at libbycopeland@gmail.com.