Monday, December 17, 2018

Johnson & Johnson Knew Its Baby Powder Contained Cancer-causing Asbestos

asbestos, cancer baby powder

Johnson & Johnson knew for decades that cancer-causing asbestos lurked in its baby powder.

The company was found to have known about the presence of small amounts of asbestos in its products from as early as 1971, a Reuters examination of company memos, internal reports and other confidential documents showed.

The report also said the company had commissioned and paid for studies conducted on its baby powder franchise and hired a ghostwriter to redraft the article that presented the findings in a journal.

In response to the report, the company said "any suggestion that Johnson & Johnson knew or hid information about the safety of talc is false".

"This is all a calculated attempt to distract from the fact that thousands of independent tests prove our talc does not contain asbestos or cause cancer," Ernie Knewitz, J&J's vice president of global media relations, wrote in an emailed response to the report.

The company also said its baby powder was asbestos-free and added it would continue to defend the safety of its product.

Johnson & Johnson shares fell 10 percent on the report, and were on track to post their biggest percentage drop in more than 16 years.

The decline in shares erased about US$40 billion from the company's market capitalisation, with investors worrying about the impact of the report as it faces thousands of talc-related lawsuits.

Johnson & Johnson, in 1976, had assured the US Food and Drug Administration that no asbestos was "detected in any sample" of talc produced between December 1972 and October 1973 when at least three tests by three different labs from 1972 to 1975 had found asbestos in its talc.

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.

While J&J has dominated the talc powder market for more than 100 years, the products contributed to a mere 0.5 percent of its revenue of US$76.5 billion last year. Talc cases make up fewer than 10 percent of all personal injury lawsuits pending against the company.

However, baby powder is considered essential to Johnson & Johnson's image as a caring company - a "sacred cow," as one 2003 internal email put it.

By Reuters / Newshub
Image: AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File

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