Written By: Daniel King,
Last modified: August 30, 2021
Quick Facts
  • Founded:
  • Years Operated:
  • Headquarters:
    New Brunswick, New Jersey
  • Business:
    Medical supplies, consumer personal care products and pharmaceuticals

Johnson & Johnson’s History and Connection to Asbestos

In the late 1800s, doctors began to realize the importance of using sterilized medical equipment to prevent infection. Johnson & Johnson was founded to meet this need. In 1894, the company launched one of its most iconic products: Johnson’s Baby Powder, made of crushed talc.

Today, Johnson & Johnson is one of the largest health care companies in the world. In 2018, the company reported more than $81.6 billion in worldwide sales. A year earlier, J&J began to face lawsuits over asbestos exposure from contaminated talcum baby powder.

In July 2019, the U.S. Justice Department launched a criminal investigation to determine if Johnson & Johnson purposefully misled the public about asbestos fibers in its talcum powder. Thousands of lawsuits have coincided with this latest probe of the pharmaceutical giant.

The justice department criminal investigation may take years to resolve and unfortunately, could delay settlement in pending civil claims.

Talcum Powder, Asbestos and Legal Troubles

For years, it’s been well known that many sources of talc are naturally contaminated with asbestos, which causes mesothelioma. The two minerals often occur in the same geological formations. Despite this, J&J did not focus on the issues of asbestos contamination in baby powder, which is of one of its flagship consumer products.

Asbestos-related diseases usually arise after years of regular exposure to the toxic mineral. Long-term exposure can occur with baby powder. Many people initially received talcum powder as babies to prevent diaper rash, and they continued using the product into adulthood.

Long-term use of asbestos-contaminated talcum powder can lead to cancer.

Video on Johnson & Johnson hiding asbestos evidence and pulling the product from the shelves due to mesothelioma claims.

Watch: Learn how Johnson & Johnson hid evidence of asbestos in its products and why they are pulling their iconic baby powder from the shelves.

Baby Powder Asbestos Controversy

Asbestos is heat resistant and versatile, while talcum powder is valued as a natural lubricant that absorbs moisture. For much of the 20th century, companies promoted asbestos and talc as harmless, naturally occurring wonder minerals.

The asbestos industry manipulated medical research around its products and buried negative findings about asbestos and health as long as it could. The corporate cover-up of asbestos’ cancer-causing effects lasted well into the 1970s.

The talc industry played a role, too, by downplaying the danger of asbestos contamination in talc products.

Attorney calling a client
Time to File a Mesothelioma Claim is Limited
Get started today to get the compensation you and your family deserve.

J&J Denied Talcum Powder-Cancer Connection

Johnson & Johnson has always publicly denied its talcum powder products cause cancer, much like many other companies accused of using asbestos in their products. However, documents unsealed in 2017 revealed J&J company executives were aware of asbestos liabilities as early as the 1970s.

Company reports highlighted the need to suppress concerns over asbestos contamination at talc mines in Vermont and Italy. And despite some J&J staff considering a switch of baby powder’s main ingredient from talc to corn starch to avoid liability, the company never stopped selling talcum powder.

Now juries are holding Johnson & Johnson accountable for cancer caused by asbestos in its products.

J&J Talcum Supplier Files for Bankruptcy

In February 2019, Imerys Talc America, a key talc supplier for Johnson & Johnson, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. The bankruptcy occurred in the wake of multibillion-dollar lawsuits alleging its talc caused ovarian cancer and mesothelioma.

One of the main causes of mesothelioma — accounting for around 90% of cases — is asbestos exposure. For ovarian cancer, the suspected link to baby powder comes from the product being used by women for personal hygiene.

Washington Senator Makes J&J Talc-Asbestos Inquiry

Also in February 2019, Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., sent a letter to Johnson & Johnson CEO Alex Gorsky asking for documentation about past testing for asbestos contamination in the company’s talc products.

The request came after an investigative report from Reuters News Service revealed J&J hid evidence of asbestos in its products for decades and misled the FDA about it. All of this added up to potential large liability for the company.

Mesothelioma Lawsuits Against J&J

The company has faced multiple lawsuits related to its products.

Asbestos Talc Lawsuits and News Involving Johnson & Johnson

  • 2021 February
    Pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson set aside $3.9 billion for talc-related litigation, according to a regulatory filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission in Washington D.C.
  • 2020 May
    Johnson & Johnson announced it would end sales of its talc-based baby powder in the U.S. and Canada, but would continue to sell it internationally. Retailers kept selling stock of the product until it ran out. J&J will continue to make a cornstarch-based version of its Johnson’s Baby Powder available in the U.S. and Canada.
  • 2019 October
    Retailers throughout the U.S. pulled J&J’s talc-based baby powder from shelves after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration found asbestos in one of the containers. The container was part of a 33,000-bottle batch that the company voluntarily recalled on Oct. 18, 2019.
  • May
    A New York Jury ordered Johnson & Johnson to pay $325 million to Donna Olson, who claimed J&J’s talcum powder caused her to develop mesothelioma. The jury awarded $25 million in compensatory damages and $300 million in punitive damages.
  • January
    Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., sent a letter requesting documentation about past testing of Johnson & Johnson’s talcum powder for asbestos. The letter was in response to a report released by Reuters News Service in 2018 that said J&J had covered up tests showing asbestos contamination since the 1970s.
  • 2018 December
    Reuters published an investigative report claiming that Johnson & Johnson knew its iconic baby powder contained asbestos. Tests from independent labs detected asbestos in the product from 1971 to the early 2000s, but J&J covered it up and never reported it to the FDA.
  • May
    A California jury ordered Johnson & Johnson to pay $25.7 million to Joanne Anderson, who said she developed mesothelioma from using the company’s talcum powder. The jury awarded $21.7 million in compensatory damages and $4 million in punitive damages.
  • April
    A New Jersey jury ordered J&J and Imerys Talc America to pay $80 million in punitive damages to Stephen Lanzo III, who claimed he developed mesothelioma from using the company’s Johnson’s Baby Powder and Shower to Shower products from 1972 to 2003.

    Lanzo was awarded $37 million in compensatory damages the week prior. Punitive damages brought the total verdict to $117 million. It was J&J’s first loss involving an asbestos talcum powder lawsuit.

  • 2017 October
    Evidence in a class action lawsuit against Johnson & Johnson showed the company had known its talcum powder products contained asbestos since the early 1970s. J&J trained its employees to reassure the public that its products were never contaminated. The lawsuit was filed by more than 50 women with ovarian cancer in St. Louis.

To date, billions of dollars have been awarded to plaintiffs involving Johnson & Johnson’s baby powder and Shower to Shower products. Shower to Shower was sold to Valeant Pharmaceuticals (now Bausch Health) in 2012, prior to the advent of the first lawsuits in 2016.

Get Free Recipes for Mesothelioma Patients
Mesothelioma packet from the Mesothelioma Center
Read the Top Mesothelioma Guide for Free
Get the Compensation You Deserve

Tell us what you think
Did this article help you?
How did this article help you?
What about this article isn’t helpful for you?
Did this article help you?

Thank you for your feedback. Would you like to speak with a Patient Advocate?