Johnson & Johnson knew about asbestos in its baby powder for decades, report


In the report, Reuters claimed documents show consulting labs as early as 1957 and 1958 found asbestos in Johnson & Johnson talc.

"The Reuters article is one-sided, false and inflammatory", Johnson & Johnson said in a lengthy statement about the report.

Johnson & Johnson, facing potential liability in the billions of dollars in claims its talcum powder causes cancer, may have known about the health risks of the product for decades, according to Reuters.

Reuters said that the evidence shows that J&J executives, mine managers, scientists, doctors and lawyers fretted over the problem and how to address it while failing to disclose it to regulators or the public.

But assertions that the talc contained asbestos - and the science showing it causes mesothelioma and is also associated with ovarian and other cancers - has had mixed success in court.

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According to Reuters, the company also tried, unsuccessfully, to block regulations that lower the maximum level of asbestos allowed in talc-based cosmetics. Juries in those cases awarded big sums to plaintiffs who blamed the talc products for causing their mesothelioma, a type of cancer.

J&J has dominated the talc market for more than 100 years and while talc products accounted for just $420 million of J&J's $76.5 billion in revenue last year, Johnson's Baby Powder is still considered, as one company email from 2003 put it, a "sacred cow" of its product line.

While most people exposed never develop cancer; for some, even small amounts of asbestos are enough to trigger the disease years later.

Reuters report also states that J&J denied the claim.

The documents revealed that from at least 1971 to the early 2000s the firm's internal tests sometimes found small amounts of asbestos in its raw talc and finished powders.

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The company added that it remained confident that its products do not contain asbestos or cause cancer.

The documents also depict successful efforts to influence USA regulators' plans to limit asbestos in cosmetic talc products and scientific research on the health effects of talc, the report states.

J&J lawyers said: "Johnson & Johnson's baby powder is safe and asbestos-free".

The Reuters report noted that most internal J&J asbestos tests did not find asbestos, but said that while the company's testing methods had improved over time, they "have always had limitations that allow trace contaminants to go undetected" and that only a "tiny fraction" of the company's talc is ever tested.

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