Investigation Hints at Johnson & Johnson’s Prior Knowledge of Asbestos-Laced Baby Powder

Investigation hints at Johnson & Johnson's knowledge of baby powder with asbestos.

According to a recent report by Reuters, Johnson & Johnson was aware of the fact that its talcum powder tested positive for Tremolite, one of six asbestos minerals

Countless plaintiffs, who allege that its talc powders can cause cancer, have sued the health product giant. These plaintiffs have experienced both wins and losses with Johnson & Johnson in court. 

Couple Wins $117 Million Judgment

Stephen and Kendra Lanzo were the first plaintiffs to win in court against Johnson & Johnson on allegations that its talcum powders contained asbestos. Stephen developed mesothelioma, which his attorney traced back to using the company’s baby powder for over 30 years. He and his wife sued, not only the company but also the product’s manufacturer. In April 2018, they won a total judgment of $117 million. 

Asbestos being lethal is not a new discovery. According to Emily Barrett, an associate professor at the Rutgers Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences Institute, “Both the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Health and Human Services have named asbestos as a carcinogen, so that’s a chemical that causes cancer in the body. So it’s been linked to a variety of different types of cancers – mesothelioma, lung cancer, ovarian cancer, and other gynecological cancers are kind of the leading ones that have been implicated.” 

According to Lanzo’s attorney, Jerome Block’s previously confidential documents were exposed over the course of the litigation, demonstrating previous knowledge. “It’s clear that Johnson & Johnson’s own documents show that their talcum powders were contaminated with asbestos,” he said. “In one particular document – a memo from 1969 – the Johnson & Johnson executive that oversaw talc supply had expressed that it’s normal to find different levels of Tremolite in many U.S. talcs,” he continued by inquiring as to how bad the mineral is and how much can be safe. 

An Indication of Prior Knowledge

Another indicator of prior knowledge occurred in 1973 when a Johnson & Johnson director of its central research lab expressed the potential of a patent that would allow the removal of Tremolite from talc. However, in a subsequent memo, he suggested that the company “[…] 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 Maintains Safety of Baby Powder

Despite the huge judgment in Stephen Lanzo’s favor, Johnson & Johnson continues to defend its talc products, calling them fully safe and free of asbestos. In fact, the company says that it has been that way for years. 

In a recorded video, Alex Gorsky, CEO of Johnson & Johnson reiterated the company’s stance that its products are in fact safe. “Johnson & Johnson has been in the news lately about the talc in our baby powder. And we know how important this topic is to you, so I want you to hear it directly from me,” he said. “Studies of tens of thousands of women and thousands of men show that talc does not cause cancer or asbestos-related disease.” The company maintains that Reuters “ignored overwhelming science that shows talc does not cause cancer.”

Many scientists oppose Johnson & Johnson’s claims of safety. Since no clear answers have been defined, Barrett suggests that consumers be sure to research all of the ingredients in their own care products.

Posted in: Personal Injury