Published: Sat, December 15, 2018
Medical | By Vicki Mclaughlin

Johnson & Johnson knew about asbestos in baby powder

Johnson & Johnson knew about asbestos in baby powder

J&J vice president Ernie Knewitz told Reuters that plaintiffs' attorneys are "out for personal financial gain" and are "distorting historical documents and intentionally creating confusion in the courtroom and in the media".

The documents, which include deposition and trial testimony, allegedly show that from at least 1971 to the early 2000s, the company's raw talc and finished powders sometimes tested positive for small amounts of asbestos.

After releasing a statement in 1971 that claimed the company had never found any asbestos in their products, a Mount Sinai researcher wrote the company a letter, explaining that a "relatively small" amount of asbestos had been detected in its baby powder, according to Reuters.

Since they last defended a lawsuit over asbestos in 1999, J&J have now been compelled to hand over thousands of pages of company memos, internal reports and other confidential documents. In July, $4.7bn was awarded in total damages to 22 women in St Louis, Missouri, who said asbestos in Johnson & Johnson talc powder contributed to their ovarian cancer.

The company's executives, researchers, doctors and lawyers were aware but deliberately chose not to disclose this information and not to refer it to the authorities, according to the report.

Reuters' report also showed the company had commissioned and paid for studies conducted on its Baby Powder franchise and hired a ghost writer to redraft the article that presented the findings in a journal.

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"Simply put, the Reuters story is an absurd conspiracy theory, in that it apparently has spanned over 40 years, orchestrated among generations of global regulators, the world's foremost scientists and universities, leading independent labs, and J&J employees themselves".

So far, the company has suffered several multimillion-dollar losses in cases alleging the product causes cancer.

The company said Friday there were rigorous tests showing the talc did not contain the cancer-causing mineral.

Johnson & Johnson, meanwhile, has vowed to appeal all verdicts against it and maintains that its products are safe. Juries in those cases awarded big sums to plaintiffs who blamed the talc products for causing their mesothelioma, a type of cancer.

Bloomberg reported earlier this week that the company was willing to pay more than $400 million to settle about 3,300 of the 10,000 suits targeting its Pinnacle line of hip-replacement devices, citing people familiar with the matter. The Johnson & Johnson website lists five important safety facts about talc and says, "Talc does not cause cancer".

The decline in shares wiped off about $24bn from the company's market capitalisation.

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