Asbestos Exposure & Bans

J&J Faces Federal Subpoenas on Asbestos in Its Baby Powder

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Written By: Walter Pacheco, Last modified: November 3, 2020

Johnson & Johnson executives this week revealed the Department of Justice and the Securities and Exchange Commission issued subpoenas related to ongoing lawsuits over the company’s alleged asbestos contamination in its popular talcum powder.

The company disclosed the federal inquiries in its annual report to the SEC on Wednesday. It was the first time the pharmaceutical giant admitted that federal agencies had subpoenaed the company about its talc products.

Despite thousands of lawsuits and a 2017 report that showed J&J executives were aware of the asbestos liabilities since the 1970s, company officials deny all allegations.

A J&J spokesperson said the company will “cooperate fully with these inquiries and will continue to defend the company in the talc-related litigation,” according to an NBC News report.

Thousands of Lawsuits Against J&J

Johnson & Johnson, which is based in New Brunswick, New Jersey, is the world’s largest manufacturer of talc products.

In 2017, J&J’s annual report showed the company had more than $76 billion in sales.

That same year, the company began facing lawsuits over asbestos exposure stemming from its talcum powders, specifically its Johnson’s Baby Powder and Shower to Shower product lines.

More than 11,000 people have filed asbestos lawsuits against J&J alleging its products caused them to develop asbestos-related cancers such as mesothelioma and ovarian cancer.

Key cases against J&J in 2018:

  • A jury in St. Louis ordered the company to pay $4.9 billion in damages to 22 women who alleged the baby powder caused their ovarian cancer.
  • A South Carolina judge declared a mistrial after jurors couldn’t reach a verdict for a man alleging asbestos in the company’s baby powder caused the mesothelioma that killed his wife.
  • A Los Angeles County Superior Court awarded $21.7 million to a woman who claimed using the company’s baby powder for 20 years led to her mesothelioma.

This month, Imerys Talc America, one of the main talc suppliers for Johnson & Johnson, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection stemming from the effects of the multibillion-dollar lawsuits it is also facing.

J&J Faces Scrutiny from Congress

In January, Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., sent Johnson & Johnson CEO Alex Gorsky a letter asking for documentation about past testing for asbestos-tainted talc and communication with the FDA regarding the safety of its product.

According to the letter, Murray wrote: “I am troubled by recent reports of an alleged decades-long effort by Johnson & Johnson to potentially mislead regulators and consumers about the safety of one of its products, which may have resulted in long-term harm for men, women and children who used Johnson & Johnson Baby Powder.”

Her letter came on the heels of an earlier Reuters investigation that alleged Johnson & Johnson concealed evidence that asbestos had been contaminating its talcum powder products for many years, and that officials intentionally misled federal regulators.

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