Johnson & Johnson recently announced that, next year, it will stop selling its talc-based Baby Powder worldwide. Two years ago, the company announced it was ending sales in the U.S. and Canada.
Tens of thousands of lawsuits have been filed in the U.S. alone claiming that the talc J&J uses in Baby Powder and other products is contaminated with asbestos. The plaintiffs claim they developed mesothelioma or ovarian cancer after routinely using the products for hygiene.
Talc is a naturally occurring mineral, as is asbestos. The two are sometimes found side by side in the same mineral deposits.
Did J&J know its talc was dangerous? In 2018, Reuters published an investigative report alleging that J&J knew for decades that its talc was tainted with asbestos. They not only knew, Reuters concluded, but they also covered it up.
What does J&J say?
J&J continues to deny that its talc products are dangerous. It told the Associated Press it is ending global sales of Baby Powder due to a sharp drop-off in demand. Demand dropped, the company claims, because “misleading talc litigation advertising” led to worldwide confusion and “unfounded concern.”
The company continues to sell other talc-based products in the U.S., including foundation makeup, face powder, blush and eye shadow.
The Reuters investigative report, however, tells a different tale. J&J’s own internal testing turned up evidence of talc contamination as early as 1972. Between then and 1975, J&J’s own testing found asbestos in its Baby Powder, but J&J withheld that information from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Reuters found even earlier reports from consulting laboratories pointing to asbestos contamination in J&J’s talc beginning in 1957.
Are all of J&J’s talc products contaminated with asbestos?
We just don’t know. According to the Reuters report, the majority of J&J’s internal tests do not find asbestos. However, only a tiny percentage of the talc J&J uses is ever tested. Moreover, testing methods have become more sensitive.
Unfortunately, many companies sell talc-based makeup products. Any of them might potentially contain asbestos.
How is the litigation against J&J going?
The results have been mixed, with several large verdicts for cancer victims and a a few wins by J&J. The company has appealed or plans to appeal the cases it has lost.
J&J has shored up its position in a highly controversial way. Last year, it shifted its Baby Powder liabilities into a new subsidiary called LTL. Then, LTL promptly filed for bankruptcy. Lawyers for plaintiffs are challenging this relatively new legal maneuver (called a “Texas two-step”). The LTL bankruptcy remains heavily contested.