Johnson & Johnson is facing more scrutiny over the safety of Baby Powder and other popular talcum powder products, this time in the United States Senate.
Late last month, U.S. Senator Patty Murray, D-WA, demanded Johnson & Johnson CEO Alex Gorsky provide information regarding the company’s past talc testing and interactions with regulators.
“According to a December 2017 Reuters report, ‘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… 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,” the Senator wrote in a letter dated January 29th.
Murray, who serves as Ranking Member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP), asked Gorsky to provide:
The Reuters report referenced by Senator Murray was based on a review of internal company documents, which revealed that Johnson & Johnson had for decades periodically commissioned outside labs to test its raw talc for asbestos.
Although the most of the tests conducted from the early 1970s through the 2000’s were negative, a few did find miniscule amounts of asbestos in Johnson & Johnson’s raw talc. Tests conducted on Baby Powder and Shower-to-Shower by researchers at Mt. Sinai Hospital and Rutgers University during the same period also detected traces of the cancer-causing mineral.
While the findings worried many at Johnson & Johnson, they appeared more concerned that raising questions about the safety of Baby Powder would undermine the company’s “caring” image. As a result, executives chose to withhold the test results from consumers and regulators.
Johnson & Johnson vehemently disputed the accuracy of the Reuters investigation. Shortly after it was published, Gorsky appeared in a video to reassure consumers that Baby Powder was safe.
Johnson & Johnson is currently facing more than 11,000 talcum powder lawsuits that allege Baby Powder and other products caused ovarian cancer or mesothelioma. Several juries have already awarded multi-million-dollar verdicts to talcum powder plaintiffs, including a Missouri panel that ordered the company to pay $4.7 billion to 22 ovarian cancer victims or their surviving loved ones last August.
Johnson & Johnson settled its first talcum powder mesothelioma lawsuit the day after Reuters published its investigative report. The case was scheduled to go to trial last month in New York City’s Asbestos Litigation, which has a record of favoring plaintiffs. At the time, Johnson & Johnson insisted the talcum powder settlement was a “one off” and promised it would vigorously defend the remaining claims.
According to its most recent earnings report, Johnson & Johnson saw its total litigation costs double during the 4th quarter of 2018, to $1.29 billion. In a statement to Reuters, a company spokesperson acknowledged that 10% of those costs – close to $200 million – were incurred as a result of the talcum powder litigation.