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Johnson & Johnson accused of asbestos cover-up

A previous North Carolina blog post discussed a product liability case in which a woman won $417 million against Johnson & Johnson (J&J). The jury found that J&J failed to adequately warn consumers about the cancer risks of asbestos-containing talcum powder. The company now faces another lawsuit, filed on behalf of more than 50 women who also developed ovarian cancer due to J&J talcum powder.

Plaintiffs allege J&J knew that its talc products contained asbestos fibers for decades and failed to warn consumers. According to an undated memo, J&J trained employees to inform anyone expressing concern over the product that asbestos has never been, and never would be, found. Tests on the talcum powder completed by J&J, dating back to as early as 1972, report no traces of asbestos.

However, one of the documents unsealed in the lawsuit contains a warning pertaining to talc extracted from the Windsor mine in Vermont. A J&J official at the mine recommended that citric acid be used to depress chrysotile asbestos, a material he said was potentially present in all talc ores used at the time. He noted that chrysotile asbestos presents a severe health hazard, and as such, J&J should take measures to protect consumers.

In a 1973 company report, another J&J official mentioned that the talcum powder contained sub-trace quantities of two types of asbestos and suggested that the company switch from talc to cornstarch. The unsealed documents also revealed that a J&J scientist persuaded Italian mine owners to stop distributing booklets, which referenced trace amount of asbestos found in mined talc that J&J bought from the company.

A representative for J&J references the FDA's strict testing requirements and states that, based on such monitoring, testing and regulation, J&J's talc products have always been free of asbestos. He also cites independent laboratory test results and the conclusions of independent scientists to support his assertion that the company's product does not contain asbestos ingredients. J&J maintains that it is not marketing asbestos-containing products, but the outcome of this case remains to be seen.

Source: Bloomberg, "J&J Was Alerted to Risk of Asbestos in Talc in 70's, Files Show," Jef Feeley, Margaret Cronin Fisk and Jared S. Hopkins, Sept. 21, 2017

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