In a shocking turn of events, it has been revealed that Johnson & Johnson were aware for decades about their baby powder occasionally testing positive for small amounts of asbestos. An in-depth investigation carried out by Reuters examined both internal company documents and court documents covering decades, and in the end found that from 1971 to the early 2000s, Johnson & Johnson were made fully aware that the talc content in their products would sometime test positive for the carcinogen, but the company had succeeded in keeping the news from reaching the public.
Johnson & Johnson had allegedly denied all the claims made in the report via a statement, as per People magazine, and branded it as “an absurd conspiracy theory.” The statement released in 1971 claimed that there was never any asbestos found in their products by the company, but it didn't end there. A Mount Sinai researcher had then written back to the company explaining that a “relatively small” amount of the carcinogen had been detected in its baby powder, Reuters revealed.
Again, in 1973, after the FDA expressed interest in proposing a rule where no more than 0.01 percent of asbestos was allowed in cosmetics, a scientist wrote in an internal note, “we may have problems,” reveals the report. The ruling never came into action and even though the FDA did set limits on asbestos content of talc used in drugs, nothing about cosmetics talc was mentioned, adds Reuters.
Things heated again a few years later when the US Food and Drug Administration wanted to put limits on asbestos in cosmetic talc products. At the time, Johnson & Johnson had allegedly assured that no asbestos had been “detected in any” talc sample that was produced between December 1972 and October 1973, despite at least three tests having produced contrary results.
Also, in another internal memo from 1976, a talc overseer at Johnson & Johnson also wrote that if talc testing was mandated with stricter methods, the company would be “hard pressed in supporting purity claims," revealed Reuters.
However, the Reuters report also implied that most of the talc test done on Johnson & Johnson products did not find the presence of asbestos, and right after, the company wasted no time in issuing a statement that said the Reuters story was “one-sided, false and inflammatory,” and its baby powder “is safe and asbestos-free.” “Studies of more than 100,000 men and women show that talc does not cause cancer or asbestos-related disease. Thousands of independent tests by regulators and the world’s leading labs prove our baby powder has never contained asbestos,” the statement continued.
Johnson & Johnson also pointed out that the article ignored “thousands of tests” that “have repeatedly shown that our talc does not contain asbestos,” in their statement while noting the “advanced testing methods” the company uses to test for asbestos. However, despite their continued denial, the company’s stock fell 10 percent on Friday, soon after the report was published, “marking its largest one-day percentage decline in 16 years,” according to Market Watch. But that wasn't the end of legal woes for Johnson & Johnson.
In 2017, a California woman filed a lawsuit claiming that the company’s famous baby powder gave her ovarian cancer; it ended with her being awarded $417 million from Johnson & Johnson. Later, in July this year, a jury in St. Louis went on to award nearly $4.7 billion to 22 women who sued the company under similar accusations — they all claimed that the asbestos in Johnson & Johnson talcum powder had given them ovarian cancer. So far, the company has been sued on the same grounds by over 9,000 women and, every time, they have repeatedly denied it, reports CBS news.