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Johnson & Johnson Opposes Supplier’s Bankruptcy Plan to Settle Asbestos Cancer Lawsuits

Pharmaceutical and cosmetics giant Johnson & Johnson recently challenged the bankruptcy plan of its long-time talc supplier, Imerys Talc USA, asserting that the defunct American subsidiary’s plan to create a liability trust related to talcum powder asbestos cancer lawsuits is a way to immunize its French parent company. Imerys Talc USA was once embroiled in 14,000 asbestos cancer lawsuits with Johnson & Johnson brought by consumers and surviving family members who claim that they or their deceased loved ones developed serious forms of cancer, including mesothelioma, from years of using consumer cosmetics products such as Baby Powder and Shower to Shower.

Johnson & Johnson currently faces an estimated 22,000 talcum powder asbestos cancer lawsuits in state and federal courts across the country, and therefore has a keen interest to oppose the bankruptcy plan under review. In November 2020, French parent company Imerys SA sold all of its North American holdings at auction to Canadian company Magris for $223 million, which will be placed into a liability trust for victims to draw compensation from and spare the French company any more legal trouble over the same or similar claims.

Plaintiffs claimed that Johnson & Johnson knew for decades that the talc sourced and mined by Imerys USA to create its iconic Baby Powder contained asbestos, a known carcinogen directly linked to developing mesothelioma cancer. Mesothelioma commonly affects thin linings of tissue surrounding vital organs such as the lungs and heart, as well as the abdominal cavity, before spreading to other parts of the body. Lawsuits filed across the country have been based on documentation of internal company memos showing that Johnson & Johnson was aware of the risk of asbestos contamination in its talc but chose not to provide any warning to consumers.

Although talc does not naturally contain asbestos, the two are minerals which can often be found in deposits side by side one another. If companies mining and processing talc do not take precautions to ensure that cross contamination does not occur, innocent consumers may be put at risk of developing serious health conditions such as mesothelioma. Recent studies have shown that as many as 15% of commercial consumer talc-based products may be contaminated with asbestos fibers.

Despite Johnson & Johnson’s objections to the bankruptcy plan presented, which it believes will make it the sole plaintiff in talcum powder cancer lawsuits, the Delaware federal judge overseeing the proceedings expressed that she should approve the deal once Imerys supplemented the proposed plan with more information about the liability trusts. Creditors, including those with potential claims against Imerys, will have until March 25, 2021, to vote on the plan.

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