Pharmaceutical company Johnson & Johnson has been accused and convicted of having known about the presence of asbestos, a cancer-causing chemical, in their talcum powder and hiding it from the public.
Asbestos in talcum powder
Almost 11,700 people have filed lawsuits against Johnson & Johnson, alleging that long time use of the company’s talcum powder has resulted in their cancers. As a result, the firm has been forced to share thousands of confidential documents and internal memos with the victims’ lawyers that reveal shocking details.
“Many of those documents, as well as deposition and trial testimony, shows that from at least 1971 to the early 2000s, the company’s raw talc and finished powders sometimes tested positive for small amounts of asbestos, and that company executives, mine managers, scientists, doctors, and lawyers fretted over the problem and how to address it while failing to disclose it to regulators or the public,” according to Reuters.
In different tests conducted by three different labs between 1972 and 1975, it was revealed that the company’s talc contained high levels of asbestos. Yet Johnson & Johnson kept the findings from the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA). Over the next decades, tests conducted by company scientists and labs kept confirming the presence of asbestos. However, the firm is not known to have taken any action on the matter.
Multi-billion dollars in damages
Recently, Johnson & Johnson lost a motion to reverse a jury verdict that had awarded 22 women and their families with US$4.69 billion in damages. The women had claimed that their ovarian cancer was caused due to the use of the company’s talc. The verdict was upheld by Judge Rex Burlison from Missouri.
The judge wrote that “substantial evidence was adduced at trial of particularly reprehensible conduct [by Johnson & Johnson, including that the company] knew of the presence of asbestos in products that they knowingly targeted for sale to mothers and babies, knew of the damage their products caused, and misrepresented the safety of these products for decades,” according to The New York Times.
While the lawyer representing the women explained that they were satisfied with the outcome, Johnson & Johnson is hoping that the verdict will eventually be overturned by the appellate court.
In India, the government is planning on conducting a full test of Johnson & Johnson baby products. The official drug licensing inspectors have been asked to collect samples of the raw materials used in the talc as well as from retail stores to test for asbestos and other toxic compounds.
In 2013, the state of Maharashtra canceled the license of one of the facilities owned by the company when it was discovered that almost 160,000 packets of baby powder were sterilized at a different plant using ethylene oxide, another cancerous chemical.
“The facility where they sent the powder was not licensed to treat powder. The company was charged for multiple violations and their license was canceled, facility shut for three months after which they went to the court and got the relief,” Mahesh Zagade, former FDA commissioner of Maharashtra, said to Livemint.
Johnson & Johnson’s talcum powder is a common product found in Indian homes. The current controversy is expected to create a major dent in the company’s sales in the country.