Johnson & Johnson talc sometimes tainted with asbestos, reveals report

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

by exchange4media Staff
Published - Dec 17, 2018 9:24 AM Updated: Dec 17, 2018 9:24 AM
J & J

According to media reports, an investigation has revealed that Johnson & Johnson’s iconic product, the talcum powder, was sometimes tainted with carcinogenic asbestos and that J&J kept the information from regulators and the public.

It was found 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. The 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, the media report said.

The documents also depict successful efforts to influence US regulators’ plans to limit asbestos in cosmetic talc products and scientific research on the health effects of talc.

A small portion of the documents have been produced at trial and cited in media reports. Many were kept from public view by court orders that allowed J&J to turn over thousands of documents it designated as confidential.

The earliest mentions of tainted J&J talc were found from 1957 and 1958 reports by a consulting lab. They describe contaminants in talc from J&J’s Italian supplier as fibrous and “acicular,” or needle-like, tremolite. That’s one of the six minerals that in their naturally occurring fibrous form are classified as asbestos.

Most internal J&J asbestos test reports that were reviewed did not have asbestos. However, while J&J’s testing methods improved over time, they have always had limitations that allow trace contaminants to go undetected and only a tiny fraction of the company’s talc is tested.

The World Health Organization and other authorities recognise no safe level of exposure to asbestos. While most people exposed never develop cancer, for some, even small amounts of asbestos are enough to trigger the disease years later.

The evidence of what J&J knew has surfaced after people who suspected that talc caused their cancers hired lawyers who knew from earlier cases that talc producers tested for asbestos and began demanding J&J’s testing documentation.

What J&J produced in response to those demands has allowed plaintiffs’ lawyers to refine their argument: The culprit wasn’t necessarily talc itself, but also asbestos in the talc. That assertion, backed by decades of solid science showing that asbestos causes mesothelioma and is associated with ovarian and other cancers, has had mixed success in court.

J&J declined to comment further for this article. For more than two months, it turned down repeated requests for an interview with J&J executives.

The company referred all inquiries to its outside litigation counsel who has rejected the findings as “false and misleading.” 

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