Pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson is facing an onslaught of lawsuits to add on to their list of financial issues, as small amounts of cancer-causing asbestos lurked in the company’s baby powder from as early as 1971. According to an investigation by Reuters, J&J hid incriminating information and reports from regulators and the public. The report indicates that small amounts of asbestos have been found in some of the company’s talc powder, the substance that makes baby powder powdery. The company allegedly did not openly communicate results and at times purposely covered up findings to both consumers and the Food and Drug Administration. J&J executives, mine managers, doctors, and lawyers from 1971 to the early 2000s were aware that the company’s raw talc and finished powders sometimes tested positive for small amounts of asbestos yet failed to report to the public.
Reuters reviewed Johnson & Johnson documents, produced as part of past trials, and found that the company had paid for studies conducted on its baby powder and had rewritten articles that presented the findings in a journal. Talc is a natural mineral that is mined from the earth. It is not totally certain that talc and its end product talcum powder are safe even in their purest form. Asbestos, which is a category of fibrous minerals known to cause cancer, is often found in the same mines where talc is harvested causing potential contamination. This is just the latest in a string of bad news for the company which has already been battling lawsuits.
In the midst of facing thousands of lawsuits, J&J continues to insist on the safety and purity of its iconic product. J&J believes that its products, even when trace amounts of asbestos were present, were safe and were finally able to convince consumers that the products could be considered asbestos-free. The company released a statement calling the Reuters article “one-sided, false, and inflammatory.” The company has been battling more than 10,000 cases claiming its Baby Powder and Shower to Shower products cause ovarian cancer. The products have also been linked with mesothelioma, a rare and deadly form of cancer that affects the delicate tissue that lines body cavities. Some juries have sided with J&J and others have been unable to reach verdicts. A Missouri jury in July ordered J&J to pay $4.69 billion in a case involving 22 women and their families.
Talc powder only contributes to a mere 0.5 percent of the company’s revenue of $76 billion last year. Talc cases make up fewer than 10 percent of all personal injury lawsuits pending against the company. By Friday’s close, J&J stock had fallen by 10.04 percent, making it its worst day in more than a decade. The decline in shares erased about $40 billion from the company’s market capitalization, with investors worrying about the fallout over the report.