Johnson & Johnson Showed Concern Over Asbestos Contamination for Decades
Reports indicate that in 1971, one of Johnson & Johnson’s executives wrote to the company’s senior staff indicating that he was concerned over the presence of asbestos in the talc that the company uses to manufacture products such as baby powder. The executive told staff members that the company should increase the standard for their quality control of the mineral.
Another executive addressed the issue again about two years later. This time, the executive stated that the company could not assume that the talc acquired from its mines was free of asbestos fibers and that tests indicated the presence of fibers that could be “classified as asbestos.”
Talc and asbestos are both minerals that occur naturally in the ground. Both of these substances can sometimes be found near one another which can lead to asbestos being found in samples of talc. This is concerning because asbestos is known to be a highly carcinogenic substance that can cause a devastating type of cancer, mesothelioma, as well as other cancers and diseases.
Documents that have now surfaced from Johnson & Johnson indicate that the executives were worried that the presence of asbestos in their materials could lead to a ban on talc. The company was concerned over their brand, which presented them as being trustworthy and concerned about the health of their consumers.
It now appears that Johnson & Johnson worked to change testing procedures and considered completely replacing talcum powder with alternative substances. At the same time, the company worked to discredit the research that indicated that talc used by Johnson & Johnson could be contaminated. Johnson & Johnson also worked to avoid documents indicating the possible presence of asbestos from becoming public information. The Food and Drug Administration assured the company that the results of unfavorable testing would not be released.
Concerns Over Cancer Led to Lawsuits
Johnson & Johnson is now fighting lawsuits over their products being contaminated. There are currently about 12,000 lawsuits around the United States stemming from the potentially cancerous effects of asbestos.
Earlier in 2018, a lawsuit in St. Louis concluded that the company was liable to 22 women who developed ovarian after years of using Johnson & Johnson’s baby powder. The plaintiffs were awarded $.69 billion making the verdict one of the largest ever in a personal injury case.
Johnson & Johnson also lost cases in California and in New Jersey in which people claimed to have developed mesothelioma because of Johnson and Johnson’s products being contaminated. Three lawsuits were also found in favor of Johnson & Johnson, four were declared mistrials, and the company is responding to the cases that they lost by filing appeals.
Johnson & Johnson’s Stock Dropped
The results of the recent report released by Reuters led to Johnson & Johnson’s stock dropping by 10 percent. Johnson & Johnson is still working to defend the safety of its products. The lawyers representing Johnson & Johnson claim that the memos taken together show that the company is concerned with the safety of its products, but that the memos selected are misrepresenting the issues.
Johnson & Johnson’s baby powder does not account for a large share of the company’s sales, but it is considered “iconic,” and the company is fighting to protect its image.
While studies are unclear on whether talc itself is dangerous, asbestos is a confirmed carcinogen which is dangerous even in very small amounts. Connecting talc to asbestos strengthens plaintiff’s arguments and makes fighting lawsuits more challenging for Johnson & Johnson.
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