Report: Johnson & Johnson knew about asbestos in baby powder for decades

Executives at Johnson & Johnson (J&J) knew for decades that the talcum in its baby powder contained asbestos and failed to tell federal regulators, according to a Reuters report.

Reuters examined documents, trial depositions and trial testimony that reportedly shows that from at least 1971 to the early 2000s, J&J executives, mine managers, scientists, doctors and lawyers knew that the company’s raw talc and finished powders sometimes tested positive for small amounts of asbestos.

The people involved discussed the problem and how to address it, while failing to disclose it to regulators or the public, Reuters found.

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The reporting also shows how J&J sought to influence regulators’ plans to limit asbestos in cosmetic products with talc, as well as research on the health effects of talc.

J&J is facing a wave of lawsuits brought by thousands of plaintiffs who allege the talc in the company’s baby powder products contained asbestos and caused mesothelioma, ovarian cancer and other diseases.

The results of the lawsuits have been mixed. Some juries have sided with the plaintiffs, awarding large amounts of damages. Some have sided with the company, and others were unable to reach verdicts.

A St. Louis jury earlier this year ordered J&J to pay $4.9 billion in a case involving 22 women and their families. J&J told Reuters it will appeal.

“Plaintiffs’ attorneys out for personal financial gain are distorting historical documents and intentionally creating confusion in the courtroom and in the media,” Ernie Knewitz, J&J’s vice president of global media relations, told Reuters in an email.

“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," Knewitz wrote.