Johnson & Johnson (J&J) has been under fire in the past for the health risks posed by its baby powder, but a new investigation has revealed the company's liability may run even deeper.
In prior cases, plaintiffs alleged -with some success - that J&J's baby powder caused ovarian cancer by traveling to the ovaries via the fallopian tubes. One such lawsuit led to an award of $4.7 billion to a group of 22 women (amounting to about $25 million each), who developed ovarian cancer due to using the baby powder.
However, a recent Reuters investigation determined that while J&J denied claims for decades, the company knowingly sold baby powder with traces of asbestos in it. The earliest mentions of tainted powder date back to 1957 and 1958, meaning J&J has potentially sold contaminated powder for at least six decades.
Two decades later, internal records are unsealed
The first allegations against J&J date back to 1999, when Darlene Coker alleged the company's baby powder caused her cancer. Her attorney knew that talc, which is in baby powder, and asbestos often occurred together in the earth and that contamination was possible.
When asbestos fibers are breathed in, they can become trapped in the lungs, leading to serious health issues in the long term. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has determined there is "sufficient evidence" that asbestos causes, among other diseases, ovarian cancer.
However, at the time of Coker's lawsuit, J&J avoided handing over talc test results and other internal records. Those records are coming to light now.
What the company knew
Test results previously sealed are now public; they determine small amounts of the carcinogen (asbestos) were in J&J's powder and the company executives, medical professionals and lawyers were concerned about addressing the problem or making it public.
While J&J's test reports indicate there was no asbestos in the product, the company's testing methods allowed trace contaminants to go undetected and only test a tiny fraction of their powder.
This investigation could lead to significant legal trouble for J&J, especially from plaintiffs who sue the company for asbestos exposure.