Quantcast

Johnson & Johnson Knew About Asbestos in Baby Powder for Decades, Reuters Investigation Finds

Health + Wellness
A container of Johnson's baby powder sits on a table. Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

By Jessica Corbett

A Reuters investigation published Friday charges that Johnson & Johnson, a multi-billion dollar company known for its healthcare products, knew for decades that its iconic talcum baby powder "was sometimes tainted with carcinogenic asbestos," but concealed the information from regulators and the public.


Asbestos, "the name given to six minerals that occur naturally in the environment as bundles of fibers," has been used in North America's automotive, construction and shipbuilding industries since the late 1800s, according to the National Cancer Institute. The World Health Organization (WHO) warns that "all types of asbestos cause lung cancer, mesothelioma, cancer of the larynx and ovary, and asbestosis (fibrosis of the lungs)."

Because asbestos sometimes occurs in the earth along with talc, contamination is possible. Reutersalong with attorneys for more than 11,000 plaintiffs currently suing Johnson & Johnson, claiming the company's products caused their cancer—examined memos, internal reports, and other confidential documents as well as deposition and trial testimony.

That mountain of evidence, according to Reuters, revealed:

... that from at least 1971 to the early 2000s, the company's raw talc and finished powders sometimes tested positive for small amounts of asbestos, and that company executives, mine managers, scientists, doctors, and lawyers fretted over the problem and how to address it while failing to disclose it to regulators or the public.
The documents also depict successful efforts to influence U.S. regulators' plans to limit asbestos in cosmetic talc products and scientific research on the health effects of talc.

While, over the past two decades, some legal challenges claiming that Johnson & Johnson products were tainted with asbestos and caused cancer have been unsuccessful, three recent developments seem to signal a shift. A pair of cases in New Jersey and California saw significant awards for mesothelioma patients, and a "watershed" verdict in St. Louis expanded the company's potential liability.

Outlining the St. Louis case, Reuters explained:

The 22 plaintiffs were the first to succeed with a claim that asbestos-tainted Baby Powder and Shower to Shower talc, a longtime brand the company sold in 2012, caused ovarian cancer, which is much more common than mesothelioma. The jury awarded them $4.69 billion in damages. Most of the talc cases have been brought by women with ovarian cancer who say they regularly used J&J talc products as a perineal antiperspirant and deodorant.

"When people really understand what's going on," said Mark Lanier, an attorney for one of the plaintiffs, "I think it increases J&J's exposure a thousand-fold."

Johnson & Johnson, as Reuters noted, "has dominated the talc powder market for more than 100 years, its sales outpacing those of all competitors combined ... And while talc products contributed just $420 million to J&J's $76.5 billion in revenue last year, Baby Powder is considered an essential facet of the healthcare-products maker's carefully tended image as a caring company—a 'sacred cow,' as one 2003 internal email put it."

Another attorney who's not tied to the cases against Johnson & Johnson concluded on Twitter that the 1970s memos mentioned in Reuters' report are "on par with key docs uncovered in the tobacco litigation."

Journalist Eoin Higgins, also responding on Twitter, simply said: "What a story. What the fuck."

Johnson & Johnson, meanwhile, has vowed to appeal all verdicts against it and maintains that its products are safe. The company's vice president of global media relations, Ernie Knewitz, wrote in an email to Reuters:

Plaintiffs attorneys out for personal financial gain are distorting historical documents and intentionally creating confusion in the courtroom and in the media ... This is all a calculated attempt to distract from the fact that thousands of independent tests prove our talc does not contain asbestos or cause cancer. Any suggestion that Johnson & Johnson knew or hid information about the safety of talc is false.

Following the report, the publicly traded company's shares plummeted by more than 11 percent.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Common Dreams.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Actress Jane Fonda (C) and actor Sam Waterston (L) participate in a protest in front of the U.S. Capitol during a "Fire Drill Fridays" climate change protest and rally on Capitol Hill, Oct. 18. Mark Wilson / Getty Images News

It appears Jane Fonda is good for her word. The actress and political activist said she would hold demonstrations on Capitol Hill every Friday through January to demand action on the climate crisis. Sure enough, Fonda was arrested for demonstrating a second Friday in a row Oct. 18, according to The Hollywood Reporter. Only this time, her Grace and Frankie co-star Sam Waterston joined her.

Read More Show Less
Visitors look at the Aletsch glacier above Bettmeralp, in the Swiss Alps, on Oct. 1. The mighty Aletsch — the largest glacier in the Alps — could completely disappear by the end of this century if nothing is done to rein in climate change, a study showed on Sept. 12. FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP via Getty Images

Switzerland's two Green parties made historic gains in the country's parliamentary elections Sunday, according to projections based on preliminary results reported by The New York Times.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
A mural in Richwood, West Virginia, a once booming Appalachia coal town, honors the community's history. Jeff Greenberg / Universal Images Group / Getty Images

By Jeff Turrentine

The coal industry is dying. But we can't allow the communities that have been dependent on coal to die along with it.

Read More Show Less
ThitareeSarmkasat / iStock / Getty Images

by Jillian Kubala, MS, RD

Every fruit lover has their go-to favorites. Bananas, apples, and melons are popular choices worldwide and can be purchased almost anywhere.

Read More Show Less
belchonock / iStock / Getty Images Plus

By Hrefna Palsdottir, MS

Coconut oil is an incredibly healthy fat.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Wesley Martinez Da Costa / EyeEm / Getty Images

By David R. Montgomery

Would it sound too good to be true if I was to say that there was a simple, profitable and underused agricultural method to help feed everybody, cool the planet, and revitalize rural America? I used to think so, until I started visiting farmers who are restoring fertility to their land, stashing a lot of carbon in their soil, and returning healthy profitability to family farms. Now I've come to see how restoring soil health would prove as good for farmers and rural economies as it would for the environment.

Read More Show Less
skaman306 / Moment / Getty Images

By Jillian Kubala, MS, RD

Radish (Raphanus sativus) is a cruciferous vegetable that originated in Asia and Europe (1Trusted Source).

Read More Show Less
Tinnakorn Jorruang / iStock / Getty Images

By Dan Nosowitz

The budding research on cannabidiol, or CBD, attracts a great deal of interest in the agricultural field.

Read More Show Less