In December 2018, Reuters published an exposé on Johnson & Johnson, which highlighted evidence that the company was aware of asbestos contamination in their talc products for decades.

The company has faced thousands of lawsuits from plaintiffs claiming to have contracted some form of cancer, including malignant mesothelioma, after using J&J products like talc Baby Powder.

Asbestos fibers can find their way into talc products either in the factory during refinement or from talc ore mined in close proximity to natural deposits of asbestos. Even if the concentration of asbestos in the talc is negligible, it still poses a serious risk of causing cancer.

Inhaling or ingesting only a few fibers can perforate and mutate cells in the mesothelium, a thin membrane that surrounds the lungs and abdomen. Over the course of a long latency period, damaged cells proliferate causing cancerous tumors to form.

J&J’s emphasis on secrecy in an attempt to keep this information buried has not helped their legal case in denying the accusations that they knew about asbestos contamination. Internal memos show that press releases were edited to indicate that their talc is now asbestos-free but they couldn’t say this was always the case. A revelation that has triggered the involvement of the U.S. Senate.

Senator Demands Asbestos Information from J&J

Last week, Senator Patty Murray, the ranking member of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions requested all internal documentation from J&J on past contamination. This includes decades of correspondence between the company and the FDA concerning product safety and asbestos-linked cancer.

The CEO of J&J, Alex Gorsky, made a public statement in a video response following the Reuters report, reassuring the public that their products are safe, stating:

“Very importantly, if we believed our products were unsafe, they would be off the shelves and out of the market immediately.”

However, Senator Murray was still not convinced. Her letter to Mr. Gorsky asked the CEO to hand over certain documents to:

“Understand more about efforts by Johnson & Johnson to determine whether there were possible carcinogens in its baby powder and how it presented that information to regulators and consumers.”

The mere suggestion that a product as popular as Baby Powder could be contaminated by asbestos has caused an uproar among people worldwide. However, a spokesperson for the company said last Wednesday that J&J stands behind the safety of their talc and that they welcome this new Senate inquiry.

New Opportunities for Legal Action

With these new revelations of a decades-long effort to hide critical information on asbestos in talc, lawsuits have secured significant victories against the company. In 2018, two patients diagnosed with mesothelioma were awarded large sums in New Jersey and California where courts determined that their disease was caused by J&J products contaminated by asbestos.

Since mesothelioma has a latency period of 20-50 years, it can often be difficult to determine exactly how a person was exposed to asbestos and what the source actually was. However, internal reports dating back to the 1970s record the active suppression of empirical evidence that there was asbestos found in samples of J&J’s Shower to Shower talc and Baby Powder.

This has given patients who file mesothelioma claims against the company a significant legal foothold in their fight for justice; a sign that J&J’s ability to hide their misrepresentation of asbestos contamination is coming to an end.

With roughly 3,300 new cases of mesothelioma diagnosed each year in the U.S., the number of lawsuits against companies that used asbestos for years in their products is only going to increase. Not to mention the fact that older generations, who are more susceptible to developing mesothelioma, may have already been heavily exposed.

Patient advocate Carl

If you or a relative has been diagnosed with mesothelioma and would like more information about legal compensation, please contact our Patient Services Director, Carl Jewett. You can reach him at 888-385-2024 or by emailing cjewett@mesotheliomaguide.com.

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Show Sources & Author

  1. Johnson & Johnson knew for decades that asbestos lurked in its Baby Powder. Reuters. Retrieved from: https://www.reuters.com/investigates/special-report/johnsonandjohnson-cancer/. Accessed: 1/7/19.
  2. 'Troubled' about talc headlines, senator demands asbestos info from J&J CEO. FiercePharma. Retrieved from: https://www.fiercepharma.com/pharma/troubled-about-talc-headlines-senator-demands-info-from-j-j-ceo. Accessed: 1/7/19.
  3. Copy for Safety and Care Commitment Website. Retrieved from: https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/5026064-2013-J-amp-J-edits-of-website-safety-statment.html#document/p1/a464174. Accessed: 1/7/19.

About the Writer, Alex Hall

Alex Hall is the Senior Content Writer for the Mesothelioma Guide. He writes and edits pages and blog posts to ensure patients and their families have access to the most relevant and up-to-date information about mesothelioma.