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Johnson & Johnson discussed possible asbestos contamination

In the past few years, there has been a surge of lawsuits filed against Johnson & Johnson, a well-known and respected brand, for asbestos exposure and related cancers. Plaintiffs claim that due to contaminated baby powder products, they were at heightened risk of contracting deadly cancers.

Johnson & Johnson has produced bath and body products for many years, including so-called baby powder, a talcum powder parents often apply to wet bottoms to prevent diaper rash.

Quite a few women have also routinely used this product as a means of keeping their genital areas dry and odor-free, especially during warm months or times of intense activity. Talcum powder was frequently marketed for exactly this purpose. Now, it appears that using talcum powder on the genitals may lead to often-fatal ovarian cancer and other cancers.

What is asbestos, and why does it matter?

Asbestos is a naturally-occurring mineral that companies have used in the past for a host of purposes ranging from insulation to brake pads. Unfortunately, just because it's natural doesn't mean it's safe. For some people exposed to asbestos, the end result many years later is the development of mesothelioma, a deadly cancer of the lining of the lungs and other organs.

Companies and doctors have known about the danger of asbestos for decades, but it still found its way into consumer products. Recent tests have shown that some forms of talcum powder may have unsafe levels of asbestos, putting consumers at risk. Those with cancers connected to talcum powder use have filed lawsuits against manufacturers, including Johnson & Johnson. Plaintiffs allege the companies failed to perform adequate safety testing and didn't label the products as potentially dangerous.

Internal memo shows that company knew of contamination risks

Internal company memos and documents from as far back as the early 1970s make it clear that this health and beauty product company has known for decades that any amount of asbestos in their products could pose serious health risks to its most vulnerable customers - infants.

The most incendiary memo concludes that baby powder contaminated with 1 percent asbestos would be well below the legal limit at the time for asbestos miners. They assumed that if babies inhaled their product, they would still be safe since the inhaled asbestos would be too low in concentration to cause harm. Due to that assumption, Johnson & Johnson concluded their product was safe.

Although the company concluded that the level of exposure in infants would be less than the legal threshold, the fact that executives were discussing this issue brings into question the company's claim that their talcum powder products have always been asbestos-free. It's quite possible that Johnson & Johnson was aware of potential and ongoing asbestos contamination but chose to deny it out of fear of reducing their profits. Doing so could make them liable in present and future lawsuits related to cancers potentially connected to talcum powder use.

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