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

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!


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


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.


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.


"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.