A new report from Reuters says that executives at Johnson & Johnson knew for decades that their baby powder, also known as talcum or talc powder, contained small amounts of asbestos. According to Reuters, the report is the result of an examination of official company documents which reveal that executives and scientists were concerned that the company’s talc powder was testing positive for asbestos. Reuters claims that despite multiple admissions in company memos and internal reports, Johnson & Johnson never shared these test results with the public — or with federal regulators. The documents Reuters used span decades: the oldest is from 1971, while the most recent is from the early 2000s.
As The American Cancer Society notes, baby powder is made from talc, a naturally occurring mineral that sometimes contains asbestos, a well-known carcinogen. Over 11,500 plaintiffs have filed suits claiming that Johnson & Johnson’s baby powder gave them cancers. A lot of Reuters‘ research on this issue comes from the evidence that the company was forced to release as a result of these lawsuits. Reuters also examined court testimony and depositions.
The report has had a negative effect on Johnson & Johnson’s stock. CNBC reports that it caused the company’s shares to plummet approximately 11 percent on Friday. According to CNBC, this could be the cosmetic giant’s biggest stock drop since 2002, a development that likely left shareholders aghast. The stock is normally a steady performer on the market.
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Johnson & Johnson told Reuters that the people suing them are manipulating the information contained in their company documents.
“Plaintiffs’ attorneys out for personal financial gain are distorting historical documents and intentionally creating confusion in the courtroom and in the media,” wrote Ernie Knewitz, J&J’s vice president of global media relations, in email correspondence to Reuters. “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. Any suggestion that Johnson & Johnson knew or hid information about the safety of talc is false.”
Despite the company’s denials, some plaintiffs who sued Johnson and Johnson have won their cases. In St. Louis, 22 people sued J&J based on accusations that their Baby Powder and Shower to Shower talc caused ovarian cancer. They won close to $5 billion from the company. But some haven’t been so successful, revealing that not all juries believed that these personal care products contain carcinogenic material.
According to Reuters, Johnson & Johnson has made it clear that they intend to appeal the cases they have lost.