Johnson and Johnson Slammed on Report it Knew its Baby Powder Contains Asbestos

A Reuters report claims Johnson and Johnson repeatedly lied about whether its baby powder contained asbestos.

Please consider a Reuters special report: J&J knew for decades that asbestos lurked in its Baby Powder.

Darlene Coker knew she was dying. She just wanted to know why. She knew that her cancer, mesothelioma, arose in the delicate membrane surrounding her lungs and other organs. She knew it was as rare as it was deadly, a signature of exposure to asbestos.

Fighting for every breath and in crippling pain, Coker hired Herschel Hobson, a personal-injury lawyer. He homed in on a suspect: the Johnson’s Baby Powder that Coker had used on her infant children and sprinkled on herself all her life. Hobson knew that talc and asbestos often occurred together in the earth, and that mined talc could be contaminated with the carcinogen. Coker sued Johnson & Johnson, alleging that “poisonous talc” in the company’s beloved product was her killer.

J&J denied the claim. Baby Powder was asbestos-free, it said. As the case proceeded, J&J was able to avoid handing over talc test results and other internal company records Hobson had requested to make the case against Baby Powder.

Coker had no choice but to drop her lawsuit, Hobson said. “When you are the plaintiff, you have the burden of proof,” he said. “We didn’t have it.”

That was in 1999. Two decades later, the material Coker and her lawyer sought is emerging as J&J has been compelled to share thousands of pages of company memos, internal reports and other confidential documents with lawyers for some of the 11,700 plaintiffs now claiming that the company’s talc caused their cancers — including thousands of women with ovarian cancer. A Reuters examination of many of those documents, as well as deposition and trial

testimony, shows that from at least 1971 to the early 2000s, the company’s raw talc and finished powders sometimes tested positive for small amounts of asbestos, and that company 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.

Junk Science or Junk Baby Powder?

That's the backdrop of a very long report. J&J calls the report "junk science", but asbestos, like many environmental carcinogens, has a long latency period. Diagnosis usually comes years after initial exposure – 20 years or longer for mesothelioma.

There are other contaminants in J&J's baby powder as well. Reuters mentions tremolite which also has small fibrous "cleavage fragments”.

In 1967, J&J found traces of tremolite and another mineral that can occur as asbestos, according to a table attached to a Nov. 1, 1967, memo by William Ashton, the executive in charge of J&J’s talc supply for decades.

Asbestos Free?

In the early 1970s JNJ sent samples of its baby powder to independent labs. Hand-picked samples perhaps?

The samples came back as asbestos-free but they did contain tremolite, which J&J did not disclose.

Getting Rid of the Tremolite

Tom Shelley, director of J&J’s Central Research Laboratories in New Jersey, was looking into acquiring patents on a process that a British mineralogist and J&J consultant was developing to separate talc from tremolite.

It is quite possible that eventually tremolite will be prohibited in all talc,” Shelley wrote on Feb. 20, 1973, to a British colleague. Therefore, he added, the “process may well be valuable property to us.”

JNJ Sought License to Kill

JNJ never got those patent rights. Instead, J&J pressed the FDA to approve an X-ray scanning technique that a company scientist said in an April 1973 memo allowed for “an automatic 1% tolerance for asbestos.” That would mean talc with up to 10 times the FDA’s proposed limit for asbestos in drugs could pass muster.

Having failed to persuade the FDA that up to 1 percent asbestos contamination was tolerable, J&J began promoting self-policing as an alternative to regulation.

What's that if not seeking a license to kill?

Misrepresentation by Omission

JNJ hid for decades the fact that its baby powder contained asbestos-like substances.

In June of 2018, JNJ lost a big case.

Providing the FDA favorable results showing no asbestos and withholding or failing to provide unfavorable results, which show asbestos, is a form of a misrepresentation by omission,” Middlesex County Superior Court Judge Ana Viscomi said in her June ruling.

A quick search for Judge Ana Viscomi shows there are over 1,300 Asbestos Claims in her NJ court.

Insufficient Penalty

Johnson and Johnson was slammed 10% today.

That's not an appropriate penalty. Its CEO and top executives ought to be in prison if the charges are true, and I believe they are.

Mike "Mish" Shedlock

Comments (33)
No. 1-16
sunny129
sunny129

JNJ stands close to UNION CARBIDE disaster in India, in terms of willful negligence and genocide. But the executives will go scot free just like Banksters!

sunny129
sunny129

NOT a word on this news at WSJ digital edition, as of now! Wow!

Schaap60
Schaap60

I'm not a big believer in conspiracy theories, but when stories like this prove true, I understand why some people are believers. The allegations sound credible at this point.

It's only money. Not one person all those years saw fit to come forward to expose at least what was known about the possible contamination? Very sad.

Webej
Webej

The problem with a lot of corporate profit is that their activities turn out to be profitable only when you leave out the hidden costs (clean up and reparations). Adam Smith already expressed the fact that in a competitive market, it is extremely difficult to realize a profit. Almost all corporations that grow large enough are handicapping the scale in some way, and their profits turn out to be the bezel from screwing others, no matter how much they praise "free markets" in public discourse. Big business is seldom freedom loving.

Carlos_
Carlos_

"That's not an appropriate penalty. Its CEO and top executives ought to be in prison if the charges are true, and I believe they are."

I agree the problem is that in the USA corporations are "individuals" and therefore the penalty goes to the entity and not the people running it. Even then, the individuals use millions from the company to defend themselves. Even if they are let go, they end up with huge separation packages. Yes the system is broken to the core.

JonSellers
JonSellers

It could be that implementing the technology to ensure that your talc is 100% free of carcinogens would make the talc too expensive for the market. So do we just get rid of talc? Or do we accept a few deaths? It's like guns and cars. We are willing to accept 10's of thousands of deaths a year to ensure we maintain a market for guns and cars. Heck, We still sell cigarettes. Cheap living standards and lots of goodies don't come without risk.

Bam_Man
Bam_Man

Long before the curtain finally comes down on the shitshow known as "Corporate America", everyone will wish they were Amish.

caradoc-again
caradoc-again

So long as something is legal it's thought of as OK.

Legality can be a very wide door to pass through whereas sticking to your values, acting ethically and with personal responsibility is a narrow passage.

That's why lobbying and regulatory capture is so disgusting - widening the door.

There's a parable in there somewhere.

elango1
elango1

imprisoning CEO and top officials are not in our hands! What can we do? Stop using J&J products with immediate effect and spread this informaation to all the dear ones you know and care about! Teach them a lesson.

Sechel
Sechel

this story is a walking billboard for more regulation and against self-policing, one of the dumbest ideas out there.

Snow_Dog
Snow_Dog

“That's not an appropriate penalty. Its CEO and top executives ought to be in prison if the charges are true, and I believe they are.”

Yes, but if the CEO gets incarcerated it becomes really difficult to know which political candidates should receive funds for their next campaign.

Better that corpirate leaders get away with screaming bloody murder. That way, transparency is maintained to see who’s support of quarterly profits deserves further funding.

Likewise how can mid-level managers know which regulatory agency represents a lucrative target to jump over to should they care to make a career switch

caradoc-again
caradoc-again

The safest car? Man from Citroen said it - one made of glass with a large metal spike in the centre of the steering wheel pointed at the driver. Suddenly accident rates would collapse.

That needs to be the case for politicians, business leaders etc. Unfortunately it's those self same people making the rules.

ReadyKilowatt
ReadyKilowatt

Johnson's baby powder doesn't work anyway. I've been sprinkling it on my wife every morning for years and still no baby!

Vitos
Vitos

Trump just approved the reintroduction of asbestos into various products, so clearly it isn't a problem. Fake news!

jrc2md
jrc2md

I am no fan of J&J but a little perspective is in order here. J&J baby powder has been around since 1893. T's been used on how many hundreds of millions of baby's , kids and adults over the century plus of its availability? There are about 3,000 cases of mesothelioma a year, most due to known exposures such as shipbuilding decades ago. The rate at which ovarian cancer has been diagnosed has been decreasing slightly over the past twenty years according to the American Cancer Society, I suspect in part because of the use of oral contraceptives which seem to have a protective effect. J&J may be guilty of hiding facts; however, the facts themselves may be of little consequence. Just remember, J&J has deep pockets and tort lawyers love deep pockets.

KidHorn
KidHorn

Is baby powder the stuff LeBron throws in the air at the beginning of games? if so, I see another deep pocket the lawyers can go after.