December 17, 2018

Johnson & Johnson Knew Its Talc Contained Asbestos, A Cancer Risk, For Four Decades

By: Marilyn McGoldrick, Esq.

Published December 17, 2018

Johnson & Johnson documents confirm they knew since at least 1971 that their talc powders contained asbestos

A new report by Reuters makes public the fact that cosmetics giant Johnson & Johnson knew since at least 1971 that its talc powders including baby powder contained asbestos.

Thornton Law Firm wrote on this blog last year about the cover-up revealed by many of the same documents Reuters reviewed. The documents were produced in talc powder cancer lawsuits against J&J over the past few years:  Johnson & Johnson Knew of Asbestos Risk In Talc For Over Forty Years. Since that blog post was published, an additional 6,000 claims have been filed against Johnson and Johnson alleging cancer developed after using their talc powder products.

For over 40 years, Johnson & Johnson has maintained that the talc in their powders including Baby Powder and Shower to Shower powder were asbestos-free. But Johnson & Johnson’s own internal documents present much evidence that this is just untrue.

J&J receives reports of asbestos in talc beginning in 1957

Johnson & Johnson’s earliest reports of asbestos in talc are from 1957 and 1958 when a consulting lab’s studies of the Italian talc used in J&J Baby Powder showed fibrous and “acicular,” or needle-like, tremolite. Tremolite is an amphibole asbestos, often found along with other minerals in nature.

Internal discussion of asbestos in talc, but never reported to authorities

Over the years, Johnson & Johnson executives, scientists, mine managers, doctors and lawyers discussed the asbestos problem internally but never reported it to federal authorities.

Johnson & Johnson failed to disclose tests by three separate labs between 1972 and 1975 showed asbestos in talc to the FDA, instead telling the FDA that all its powders tested asbestos-free. One of the tests reported the asbestos level as “rather high”.

J&J works to suppress the public’s knowledge of asbestos in their talc powders

Arthur Langer and Irving Selikoff, scientists well known to asbestos victims for their research on the dangers of asbestos, both told Johnson & Johnson that they found asbestos in its talc. In response, J&J put the two famous researchers on a list of “antagonistic personalities” in a November 29, 1972 memo.

In 1973 Johnson and Johnson considered getting patents for a process that would separate talc from tremolite, but decided against obtaining the patents. The director of research for J&J’s Central Research Laboratories in New Jersey, Tom Shelley,  wrote this explanation to a J&J lawyer:

“We will want to carefully consider the … patents re asbestos in talc. It’s quite possible that we may wish to keep the whole thing confidential rather than allow it to be published in patent form and thus let the whole world know.”

Johnson & Johnson rejected the most sensitive test for finding asbestos in talc, then based on the less sensitive tests claimed (and continue to claim) their talc is asbestos-free.

For years the American Cancer Society accepted the representations of industry that talc products were asbestos-free. The ACS website said flatly  “All talcum products used in homes have been asbestos-free since the 1970s.” But after being contacted by Reuters , in December the ACS revised its website. Now it says that under industry guidelines, talc products “should be free from detectable amounts of asbestos.” See the change on the website here.

Many talc samples and baby powder samples test positive for asbestos

Baby powders that when tested were found to contain asbestos included:

  • A bottle of 1978 baby powder from Johnson & Johnson’s own J&J museum;
  • Bottles from  plaintiffs’ cupboards;
  • Shower to Shower talc powder from the 1990s;
  • Bottles purchased on Ebay.

Judge Accuses J&J of “Misrepresentation by Omission”

This year a New Jersey judge, Middlesex County Superior Court Judge Ana Viscomi, upheld a jury verdict again Johnson & Johnson. In her ruling in favor of the plaintiff with cancer, she stated:

“Providing the FDA favorable results showing no asbestos and withholding or failing to provide unfavorable results, which show asbestos, is a form of a misrepresentation by omission,”

Johnson & Johnson has begun to change their statements on asbestos in talc powders

While Johnson & Johnson’s website used to say their talc powders have always been asbestos free, that statement has been changed. Now the site says  “Our talc-based consumer products are (we cannot say always) asbestos free, as confirmed by regular testing since the 1970s.”

What can you do?

If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with ovarian cancer or mesothelioma after using talcum powder (including baby powder and Shower to Shower Powder), you may have a claim for damages. Contact Thornton Law Firm’s defective product attorneys for a confidential, free evaluation of your legal rights at 1-888-341-1405. Or tell us your story here  to find out your legal rights and how you should proceed.

Trust our Massachusetts talcum powder attorneys to help

Call Attorney Marilyn McGoldrick at 1-888-341-1405  or tell her your story online  for a free consultation with a recognized leader in Massachusetts personal injury litigation. We offer a fair and accurate assessment of your case. You have nothing to risk.

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