Talcum Powder Dangers Were Covered up by Johnson & Johnson

A recent investigative report by Reuters concludes that Johnson & Johnson (J&J) knew for decades that its talcum powder was contaminated with asbestos but concealed that fact from consumers. To this day, J&J denies that its talc-based products, including baby powder and talcum powder, are carcinogenic. The company has nevertheless been sued, successfully and repeatedly, for marketing cancer-causing products.

Talcum powder is made almost entirely from talc, a mineral that absorbs moisture. Talc is also the primary ingredient in J&J’s best-selling baby powder. Talc is often found next to deposits of asbestos. The mining process can contaminate talc with asbestos, a known carcinogen.

While the cosmetics industry adopted voluntary guidelines to remove asbestos from talc-based products in 1976, the Reuters report quotes studies that alerted J&J to the presence of asbestos in its baby powder as recent as 1991. In any event, early exposures to asbestos can cause cancer to develop later in life. For example, a parent who used baby powder on a child during the 1960s may have unknowingly exposed the child to the asbestos that caused cancer to develop fifty years later.

Talc-Related Cancers

Mesothelioma is a deadly cancer that is almost always caused by inhaling asbestos. In the past, many products contained asbestos, including brake linings, cement, and drywall. Occupational exposure is thus a leading cause of mesothelioma.

Earlier this year, a New Jersey investment banker obtained a jury verdict of $117 million against J&J for manufacturing products that caused his mesothelioma. A jury attributed his mesothelioma to the lifetime use of J&J’s talc-based powders and a former J&J product, Shower-to-Shower. The jury awarded $80 million for punitive damages after hearing evidence that J&J covered up health risks associated with its asbestos-tainted products.

Other juries have held J&J responsible for ovarian cancer in women who powdered their genitals or underwear with talcum powder or baby powder.While J&J has funded studies purporting to show the absence of a link between J&J products and ovarian cancer, independent studies have identified the mechanism by which those products cause cancer of the ovaries.

Some verdicts against J&J have been reversed because the lawsuits were filed in the wrong state. The merits of those cases, however, have survived scrutiny on appeal. Thousands of cases involving women who contracted ovarian cancer after using J&J products are currently pending in the nation’s courts.

Johnson & Johnson’s Coverup

The Reuters report reveals that J&J engaged in the common corporate strategy of “deflect and deny.” While baby powder sales represent a small percentage of the corporate giant’s profits, J&J did not want its reputation sullied by evidence that it was marketing a cancer-causing product for parents to use on their babies.

The company reacted to evidence that it was marketing a carcinogen in three ways:

  1. It funded its own studies that were designed to prove that its talc-based product were free from asbestos contamination.
    • According to Reuters, J&J dictated the results it wanted to see and sometimes used its own staff to rewrite the reports that the studies produced.
  2. J&J resisted regulation by providing misleading information to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the federal agency that regulates cosmetics.
    • For example, J&J assured the FDA that no asbestos was detected in any sample of talc produced between December 1972 and October 1973. That cherry-picked data omitted reference to tests that discovered asbestos in J&J’s talc earlier in 1972 and after October 1973.
    • A trade association committee chaired by a J&J executive adopted “voluntary” guidelines purporting to assure that talc-based cosmetics would not be contaminated by asbestos. The guidelines allowed a form of testing that was not capable of detecting asbestos in quantities that exceeded recommended exposure levels.
    • The FDA, apparently satisfied by the voluntary guidelines and J&J’s false assurances that its talc did not contain asbestos, decided not to adopt regulations that would have protected the public. By 1984, the FDA’s cosmetics chief was a former J&J employee.
  3. J&J’s lawyers resisted producing documents in lawsuits that would have established its knowledge of asbestos contamination.
    • Lawsuits were dismissed because J&J lawyers falsely accused plaintiffs’ lawyers of “fishing expeditions” and that the documents, if produced, would reveal no evidence of asbestos in J&J’s talc-based products.

Talcum and Baby Powder Lawsuits

Individuals across the country have filed lawsuits against J&J, alleging that their mesothelioma or ovarian cancers were caused by using J&J’s talcum powder, baby powder, or other talc-based cosmetics. The company has suffered a string of losses as juries learn that J&J marketed a deadly product to consumers and deliberately concealed evidence of its actions.

Personal injury lawyers who handle cases involving defective products routinely encounter corporate misconduct like that exposed by Reuters. Injury lawyers fight against corporate efforts to prevent injured consumers from receiving the compensation they deserve. Lawyers and journalists act as a check against powerful companies like Johnson & Johnson by helping the public learn the truth when companies try to cover up their deadly mistakes.

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