Published: Sat, December 15, 2018
Business | By Eloise Houston

Report Claims Johnson & Johnson Knew Baby Powder Contained Asbestos for Decades

Report Claims Johnson & Johnson Knew Baby Powder Contained Asbestos for Decades

In an in-depth investigation from Reuters, which examined decades worth of internal company documents and court documents, the outlet found that from 1971 to the early 2000s, Johnson and Johnson had been made aware that the talc in their products sometimes tested positive for the carcinogen, and did not share the news outside of the company.

More than 11,000 plaintiffs have been identified by U.S. lawyers to be potentially impacted by the presence of asbestos in their baby powder - including thousands of women with ovarian cancer. The report claimed that the company knew that some tests of their raw talc and finished powder showed traces of asbestos.

Both talc (the basis of talcum powder) and asbestos are naturally occurring minerals that are found together in the earth, making it easy to accidentally mine asbestos along with the talc.

Nonetheless, the Reuters report was enough to spook investors, who sent J&J's shares down more than 10% Friday morning. "Studies of more than 100,000 men and women show that talc does not cause cancer or asbestos-related disease", it said.

In response to the reports, J&J said that "thousands of independent tests" have shown that its talc is safe.

The company has provided a slew of documentation as part of the legal process, and Reuters reports it has acquired many of these documents.

However, the Reuters report indicated that most testing reports did not find the presence of asbestos in J&J products. The company has won several recent court cases allaging liability and damages, and is appealing other judgments, including $4.6 billion awarded in July to 22 women who claimed its product caused their ovarian cancer.

J&J vice president Ernie Knewitz told Reuters that plaintiffs' attorneys are "out for personal financial gain" and are "distorting historical documents and intentionally creating confusion in the courtroom and in the media".

Meadows won five of the six cases - which are being appealed by Johnson & Johnson - including a $417 million award in Los Angeles and a $110 million award in St. Louis past year.

Since they last defended a lawsuit over asbestos in 1999, J&J have now been compelled to hand over thousands of pages of company memos, internal reports and other confidential documents.

Johnson & Johnson, meanwhile, has vowed to appeal all verdicts against it and maintains that its products are safe.

Even when the FDA was weighing limits on asbestos in cosmetic talc products in 1976, J&J assured the regulatory body that none had been detected "in any sample" between December 1972 and October 1973. The Johnson & Johnson website lists five important safety facts about talc and says, "Talc does not cause cancer".

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