As more and more women come forward with suspicions that their ovarian cancer and mesothelioma diagnoses are as a result of their abundant use of Johnson & Johnson’s Baby Powder, the company is beginning to feel more pressure to proclaim its innocence and defend its actions and the actions of its executives, despite the fact that there is growing proof that the company knew about asbestos in its talc products for decades but failed to tell anyone beyond the hallowed walls of the boardroom.
Asbestos-related lawsuits against consumer products mega-company Johnson & Johnson commenced just before the turn of the millennium, reports a recent article in Reuters entitled “Powder Keg”. At that time, plaintiff Darlene Coker knew that there was no reason she would have developed mesothelioma other than her long-time exposure to Johnson’s beloved Baby Powder.
Her lawyer, Herschel Hobson, had helped her figure it out. But, in the end, J&J denied the 1999 claim from Coker and was able to avoid releasing documents and internal memos that would have showed that she and her lawyer were correct.
There WAS asbestos in J&J’s talc products. But the plaintiff had the burden of proof and didn’t succeed.
But, today, the tide is changing. Slowly, proof has been appearing which shows that test results did indeed show the presence of asbestos in the talc the company purchased, and additional documents prove that executives at J&J Knew about asbestos positive test results but purposely hid them from the public. Reuters wrote the following in their recently-released exposé:
The earliest mentions of tainted J&J talc that Reuters found come from 1957 and 1958 reports by a consulting lab. They describe contaminants in talc from J&J’s Italian supplier as fibrous and “acicular,” or needle-like, tremolite. That’s one of the six minerals that in their naturally occurring fibrous form are classified as asbestos.
At various times from then into the early 2000s, reports by scientists at J&J, outside labs and J&J’s supplier yielded similar findings. The reports identify contaminants in talc and finished powder products as asbestos or describe them in terms typically applied to asbestos, such as “fiberform” and “rods.”
In 1976, as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) was weighing limits on asbestos in cosmetic talc products, J&J assured the regulator that no asbestos was “detected in any sample” of talc produced between December 1972 and October 1973. It didn’t tell the agency that at least three tests by three different labs from 1972 to 1975 had found asbestos in its talc – in one case at levels reported as “rather high.”
The article continues by noting that J&J was often able to get away with not reporting what they considered “trace amounts” of the mineral. In addition, only a very miniscule amount of the thousands upon thousands of tons used by the company was tested.
Given all the information that has surfaced and all that continues to appear, it hasn’t been a good year for Johnson & Johnson. Two verdicts – one each in New Jersey and California – resulted in large sumss for the plaintiffs, both of whom had mesothelioma. And just a few months ago in St. Louis, the jury awarded 22 plaintiffs a total sum of $4.69 BILLION in damages.
All the women were regular users of Baby Powder ™ and all had developed ovarian cancer. J&J, of course, plans to appeal all of the verdicts. They refused to offer comments for the Reuters article and referred the media outlet to their outside litigation counsel, Peter Bicks, who said: “The scientific consensus is that the talc used in talc-based body powders does not cause cancer, regardless of what is in that talc.
This is true even if – and it does not – Johnson & Johnson’s cosmetic talc had ever contained minute, undetectable amounts of asbestos.” He called the tests cited in this article as “outlier” results.
J&J attorneys have used similar verbiage when referring to testing cited during the trials mentioned above. They’ve referred to the tests as “junk science” and have cited what they deem to be “unfair court rules.”
“Plaintiffs’ attorneys out for personal financial gain are distorting historical documents and intentionally creating confusion in the courtroom and in the media,” Ernie Knewitz, J&J’s vice president of global media relations, wrote in an emailed response to Reuters’ findings about testing and internal memos.
“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.”
What might happen to J&J as these stories unfold is yet to be seen. The company has been tops in the talc market for more than 100 years and its baby powder is the premiere product moms reach for to soothe diaper rash and other infant and toddler skin issues.
Some women, as has been indicated in the 11,000 or so pending lawsuits against the company and its talc suppliers like Imerys SA, have continued to use the powder through their adult years as well…and now they’re paying the price.
In the meantime, Johnson & Johnson’s performance in the stock market is being affected; the many lawsuits have shaken up investors who always thought spending their money on J&J stock was a sure thing. Now, they’re not so sure.