At this stage, more than 5,000 lawsuits have been filed against the iconic baby powder manufacturer Johnson & Johnson, most alleging that cases of ovarian cancer and mesothelioma were caused by asbestos contained in the pharmaceutical giant’s baby powder & talc products.
There is even a new shareholder lawsuit that was filed February 9 in federal court in New Jersey, on behalf of investors who purchased J&J shares between February 2013 and February 2018—alleging that J&J “has known for decades that its talc products, such as its Baby Powder, include asbestos fibers and that the exposure to those fibers can cause ovarian cancer and mesothelioma.” The tentative class action suit alleges that J&J harmed its stockholders by allegedly concealing the truth claimed in hundreds of other lawsuits and articles contending J&J’s talcum powder products contain asbestos.
Seems even investors are smelling something suspicious here. The investor suit, filed by one Frank Hall, named J&J as defendant along with J&J CEO Alex Gorsky and J&J CFO Dominic Caruso.
Facing thousands of lawsuits asserting that its talcum powders causes cancer and other diseases, Johnson & Johnson has consistently maintained that science supports that its products never contained asbestos. But documents recently filed by some plaintiffs, suggest that some tests in the 1970’s found asbestos and that J&J debated the issue internally. (Note: So did the Ford Motor Company, when it found out that its famous Ford Pinto was a moving time bomb due to defective rear bumpers.)
Previous J&J statements have asserted that the company is “confident that our talc products are, and always have been, free of asbestos, based on decades of monitoring, testing and regulation dating back to the 1970s. Historical testing of samples by the FDA, numerous independent laboratories, and numerous independent scientists have all confirmed the absence of asbestos in our talc products.”
However, court documents, released by plaintiff’s attorneys in the liability litigation, reportedly challenge that claim. Note: As of the date of this post, I have not seen or read these reported memos. I obtained information from them from FiercePharma.com, which covers the pharmaceutical industry and provides news, analysis and data on pharmaceutical products and the companies that manufacture them.
Two internal employee memos reportedly date from the 1970s: One 1973 memo, titled WINDSOR MINERALS AND TALC,” supposedly discusses a mine in Vermont and reportedly reads: “We believe this mine to be very clean; however, we are also confident that fiber forming or fiber type minerals could be found.” The employee wrote that talc used in packaging materials “contain widely varying amounts of tremolite or fibrous talc. Our Baby Powder contains talc fragments classifiable as fiber,” the memo reportedly continues. “Occasionally sub-trace quantities of tremolite or actinolite are identifiable (optical Microscope) and these might be classified as asbestos fiber.” According to the National Institutes of Health, tremolite is a type of asbestos.
The employee reportedly wrote that J&J was exploring alternatives to “better protect our powder franchise,” such as improvements to “better select” talc and an effort to remove a “large portion of the very fine particles presently found in talc.” Replacing talc with corn starch was allegedly also suggested as an option.
And in a 1974 memo, a J&J employee wrote that he visited the company’s Italian talc supplier, SVC, to discuss the “business threat” posed by ta pamphlet on talc ingredients that SVC had recently published. The memo discussed J&J’s need to “forestall the upsetting impact which distribution of a recent SVC publication will have on the world talc market.” According to the memo, the SVC publication said Italian talc is the “purest and best in the world,” but “calls undue attention to a host of trace metals in talc and brands them as harmful elements…” As part of an effort that appears to reflect damage control, the J&J staffer reportedly wrote that he and others had conducted successful discussions with SVC ,and that the J&J supplier agreed to “stop distribution of all English versions of the publication.”
An additional document reportedly outlines April 2017 testimony offered from a former graduate chemistry student from New York University, claiming that he found random amounts of asbestos in “over 50 percent” of talc samples that he tested in 1972 and 1973.
Yesterday, February 9, a J&J spokesperson commented that its Baby Powder product “has been around since 1894 and it does not contain asbestos or cause mesothelioma or ovarian cancer. In November 2017, a California jury ruled in favor of Johnson & Johnson in a lawsuit filed by a woman who claimed she developed mesothelioma from using J&J’s talc-based products. We will continue to defend the safety of Johnson’s Baby Powder in future trials.”
Not surprisingly, J&J hasn’t wavered from its product, even as the caseload against the health & beauty products giant has grown substantially. They lost some early suits, but still reversed on appeal previous verdicts worth hundreds of millions of dollars. The company sustained legal losses in St. Louis worth $55 million, $70 million and $110 million. Notwithstanding, they’ve promised to appeal each verdict. That’s Big Pharma: They’ll fight to the end – just as Big Tobacco did. As a Massachusetts dangerous pharmaceutical products lawyer, I’ve seen too many examples of pharmaceutical companies, as well as health & beauty companies such as Johnson & Johnson, market products that it had reason to know could be dangerous to human health. But what always, and sadly, seems to rule in these companies, is one word: profit. Conscience comes in a distant last.
If you think that you or someone you care about may have been injured by using baby powder or another type of health & beauty or pharmaceutical product, consult a very experienced dangerous medical products attorney. Make sure that the law firm you choose is very, very experienced in litigating these cases on behalf of injured consumers and patients: This type of litigation isn’t for lawyers who are “faint of heart”