The state of New Mexico recently filed suit against Johnson & Johnson alleging the company’s talcum powder marketing targeted minority women and children, even though company officials were aware that Johnson’s Baby Powder, Johnson’s Medicated Powder, and Shower-to-Shower products might contain cancer-causing asbestos.
The January 2nd complaint, which was filed in state court in Santa Fe, names Johnson & Johnson, Johnson & Johnson Consumer Companies, Inc., Valeant Pharmaceuticals International Corporation, and Valeant Pharmaceuticals North America LLC as defendants.
Johnson & Johnson and other talcum powder manufacturers have long maintained that their raw talc is asbestos free. But in December 2018, a Reuters investigation revealed that Johnson & Johnson’s raw talc – as well as its finished powders – had periodically tested positive for traces of asbestos since the 1970s. The report suggested company officials never informed regulators or warned the public due to concern that such a disclosure would undermine Johnson & Johnson’s “caring” image.
Fuel was added to talc-asbestos controversy late last year, when the U.S. Food & Drug Administration disclosed that testing had detected “subtraces” of asbestos in a single bottle of Johnson & Johnson’s Baby Powder. The company ultimately recalled more than 33,000 bottles of Baby Powder, but maintains that its own testing of the same bottle indicated the powder was asbestos-free.
New Mexico is one of the first states in the nation to file a lawsuit against Johnson & Johnson for manufacturing and selling talcum powder contaminated with asbestos.
“Our office will take immediate action any time a corporation misleads a New Mexican consumer or endangers the health and safety of our families,” New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas said in a statement announcing the filing. “These products have been targeted at minority groups, especially Black and Hispanic women and children, with false messages about their safety, and I will hold these companies accountable.”
Johnson & Johnson is facing more than 17,000 personal injury claims nationwide that blame Baby Powder and Shower-to-Shower for causing ovarian cancer or mesothelioma. Numerous talcum powder lawsuits have gone to trial since 2015, but verdicts have been mixed. A few cases have also ended in mistrials, and some have been dismissed before they went to juries.
While Johnson & Johnson denies that its talcum powder products ever contained asbestos or are in anyway linked to cancer, the company has settled a handful of lawsuits over the past year, including a mesothelioma case that was already at trial in California’s Alameda Superior Court.
Johnson & Johnson also agreed to resolve three talcum powder lawsuits last March, including an Oklahoma case that was already in jury deliberations, another in Los Angeles on the second day of trial, and a third in New York City that was scheduled to go to trial last April.
In December 2018, Johnson & Johnson reportedly paid $1.5 million to settle another New York City mesothelioma lawsuit.