Documents showing that Johnson & Johnson knew its talc contained asbestos have been unearthed by Reuters and made public, which will likely damage J&J.
Even more insidious, Reuters found that J&J managers, over these 40 or so years, discussed the problem but they did not disclose it to regulators or the public. J&J responded by stating, “the Reuters story is an absurd conspiracy theory”, which may be absurd in itself. The report did, however, cause J&J stock to fall just over 10 percent on Friday, December 14.
Johnson & Johnson argued that the Reuters article is wrong in three key areas, according to CNBC.
- “The article ignores that thousands of tests by J&J, regulators, leading independent labs, and academic institutions have repeatedly shown that our talc does not contain asbestos.
- “The article ignores that J&J has cooperated fully and openly with the U.S. FDA and other global regulators, providing them with all the information they requested over decades.
- “We have also made our cosmetic talc mines and processed talc available to regulators for testing. Regulators have tested both, and they have always found our talc to be asbestos-free,” said a J&J spokesperson.
But in an internal memo that Reuters revealed, J&J managers said that, “Our current posture with respect to the sponsorship of talc safety studies has been to initiate studies only as dictated by confrontation…This philosophy, so far, has allowed us to neutralize or hold in check data already generated by investigators who question the safety of talc.”
As for tests by academic institutions, an article in the Journal of Environmental Pathology and Toxicology (1979) reported a “significant increase” in “respiratory cancer mortality” among miners. And data published in 1988 determined that at least one of the workers died of mesothelioma . A New Jersey jury in April 2018 concluded that J&J and Imerys officials (the world’s leading talc producer and J&J talc provider) knew for years their talc contained trace amounts of asbestos.
As for leading academic institutions, a 1970s study of almost 2,000 Italian talc miners shows that J&J commissioned and paid for the study, told the researchers the results it wanted, and hired a ghostwriter to redraft the article that presented the findings in a journal. “The study was proposed by William Ashton, J&J’s longtime talc supply chief, who had miners’ medical records compiled by an Italian physician, who also happened to control the country’s talc exports,” reported Reuters.
As for independent lab testing, Reuters found 1957 and 1958 reports by a consulting lab describing contaminants in talc from J&J’s Italian supplier as fibrous tremolite, which is classified as asbestos. Inhaling its fibers can lead to asbestosis ,lung cancer and both pleural and peritoneal mesothelioma.
Unfortunately, a number of previous Johnson & Johnson asbestos-talc lawsuits were denied because the plaintiff had to have burden of proof – access to confidential J&J documents were denied. Now, however, J&J has been ordered to share thousands of pages of company memos, internal reports and other confidential documents with lawyers for almost 12,000 plaintiffs– including thousands of women with ovarian cancer — who allege that J&J’s talc caused their cancers.
Possibly thanks to Reuters unearthing these documents, plaintiffs and their attorneys will be able to further make their case and win their asbestos-talc lawsuits against Johnson & Johnson.