The U.S. Department of Justice is launching an investigation into the risks of Johnson & Johnson’s baby powder and whether the company knew anything about a link between its talc-based powder and cancer. Johnson & Johnson has consistently maintained that its powder is safe, despite numerous lawsuits against it alleging use of the product can lead to cancer.
Talcum Powder Ovarian Cancer, Asbestos Lawsuits
Many lawsuits are currently pending against Johnson & Johnson regarding the talcum powder in its signature baby care line. A portion of the suits allege that the powder contains asbestos and leads to development of mesothelioma. Other suits allege that when used in the genital area, the power can lead to development of ovarian cancer. The lawsuits further allege that Johnson & Johnson has known for decades about the cancer risks associated with use of its talcum powder but has kept this information from coming to public light.
Many women use talc-based powders to stay dry and prevent odor, and they dust the powder in their underwear, on sanitary napkins, or directly onto the genital area. The practice coincides with a marketing expansion in which Johnson & Johnson turned its powder into a product for adults in addition to babies.
As early as the 1970s, scientists discovered a potential link between talc and ovarian cancer, when they found talc embedded in malignant ovarian tumors. Talc also historically comes from formations that contain asbestos, which can lead to mesothelioma if a person breathes in the particles.
Consumers and family members started filing lawsuits against Johnson & Johnson several years ago, alleging that the company failed to warn consumers about the risks associated with its product. The lawsuits now number in the thousands, and those related to ovarian cancer have been consolidated into a multidistrict litigation (MDL) in the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey. The MDL court will oversee pretrial proceedings and initial case trials.
In addition, some lawsuits are pending in state jurisdictions around the country. Some suits have already moved to trial, with results coming down in favor of both the plaintiffs and the defense.
DOJ Probing Company Knowledge
Johnson & Johnson has continued to claim that its baby powder is safe, disputing evidence presented in lawsuits and maintaining that there is no definitive link between its talcum powder and cancer. The company has also denied that its powder has ever contained asbestos, a substance linked to mesothelioma.
According to recent reports, a Washington grand jury is now reviewing numerous documents to determine whether Johnson & Johnson has known that its talcum powder contains carcinogens and whether the company lied to officials and to the public about the connection. Shares of Johnson & Johnson stock dropped more than 4 percent in response to news about the federal probe.
This was in addition to declining sales in the company’s baby care products, as younger moms are turning to new brands containing fewer chemicals. Since 2011, sales for Johnson & Johnson have fallen 20 percent, a loss that the company attributes in part to a failure to evolve alongside changing consumer desires. The company has attempted to relaunch its baby products in order to draw consumers back to its longstanding brands, which also include products like Aveeno and Band-Aid.
Johnson & Johnson says it is cooperating with the probe and complying with subpoenas it received earlier this year.
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