A recent report by Reuters claims that pharmaceutical and cosmetics giant Johnson & Johnson knew for decades about the risk of asbestos contaminating its talc-based products, but did nothing to warn consumers about the dangers of exposure to the deadly carcinogen. Those claims come after the news outlet examined thousands of pages of internal company documents going back to the 1970s through the early 2000s that show Johnson & Johnson withheld information about asbestos from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
According to the article, Johnson & Johnson’s first recorded knowledge of potential asbestos contamination in its talc comes from 1957 and 1958 reports by a consulting lab describing contaminants in its products from the supplier. Those contaminants were described by the consulting lab as fibrous and acicular tremolite, one of the six-naturally occuring forms of asbestos.
Over the next several decades, other reports by Johnson & Johnson’s own scientists, outside consulting labs, and suppliers would show similar findings, including one identifying contaminants in the talc as “fiberform” and “rods.” Despite these obvious red flags, Johnson & Johnson chose not to put any warning labels on its talc-based products and allowed its potentially deadly items to remain on the market.
During the mid-1970s, as the FDA was exploring whether to put limits on the amount of asbestos in cosmetic talc-based products, Johnson & Johnson went as far as to assure federal regulators that it had not detected any sample of asbestos during a two-year period. However, internal company documents showed that on at least three-occasions from 1972 to 1975, Johnson & Johnson observed detectable levels of asbestos in its talc, including one described as “rather high.”
While most of Johnson & Johnson’s testing that was reviewed by Reuters did not show any detectable levels of asbestos, detection methods have always had limitations despite technological improvements over the years. Furthermore, only a tiny fraction of Johnson & Johnson’s talc is tested, creating the risk that large amounts of contaminated talc could be incorporated into cosmetics products on the market.
Across the country, thousands of asbestos cancer victims and their family members have filed asbestos cancer lawsuits against Johnson & Johnson and its supplier, Imerys Talc USA, over claims that the company knew about the dangers of its products but did nothing to warn consumers. As a result, the lawsuits claim, the plaintiffs developed serious forms of cancer, including mesothelioma, from exposure to asbestos in the talc. The mesothelioma cancer lawsuits seek damages for medical bills, past and future lost wages, and pain and suffering, and the emotional turmoil of living with their disease.
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