Last week, a California jury learned that Johnson & Johnson® knew their talc products could contain asbestos, cause talcosis, or asphyxiate babies. The company failed to warn the public, and instead marketed Johnson’s® baby powder as safe and pure. Millions of people were exposed to talc without knowledge that they were putting themselves or their children at risk.
The testimony came from expert witness Dr. David S. Egilman, an epidemiologist and pulmonologist who teaches at Brown University. According to Egilman, an investigation of internal documents surrounding their talc operations reveals that Johnson & Johnson was well aware of the risks posed by their products and deliberately downplayed them.
The California lawsuit is only 1 of more than 11,000 lawsuits that Johnson & Johnson faces concerning talc. Last year, the company was hit with 3 multi-million-dollar settlements, awarded to victims who were injured by Johnson & Johnson’s baby powder. In 2 of the settlements, plaintiffs were mesothelioma victims—in the other, victims developed ovarian cancer.
For their part, Johnson & Johnson disputes all allegations and maintains that their talc products are safe and asbestos-free. They claim that they are 100 percent transparent with the public.
Unfortunately for Johnson & Johnson, the truth is coming out during the talc trials. Victims finally have the facts they need to get the justice they deserve.
Talc and the Risk of Asbestos Exposure
Talc is the softest mineral on the planet. It has a host of cosmetic and commercial uses. In order to secure raw materials for their products, Johnson & Johnson operated a number of talc mines around the world. Talc has been for decades the primary ingredient in the company’s signature baby powder.
The problem with talc is that it often occurs in rock formations near another mineral, asbestos. Exposure to asbestos, usually the inhalation of tiny fibers, can cause mesothelioma, a deadly and incurable cancer. As the miners cut through rock, the toxic dust is released into the air. This means miners are at an increased risk of developing mesothelioma, but the dangers do not end there.
Exposure to asbestos carries a lifetime risk of developing mesothelioma. There is no cure, and there is no known “safe” level of exposure. People who have worked around asbestos have made their children sick simply by returning home with tiny asbestos fibers on their clothes. When it comes to asbestos, even trace amounts matter a lot.
Only Faulty Tests — Not Facts — Support ‘Asbestos-Free’ Claims
Johnson & Johnson knew of the risks posed by asbestos. They tried to perfect a process for separating talc from asbestos. What they discovered was that it was not really possible to refine talc to the point where there was no asbestos. Instead of accurately informing the government or their customers, Johnson & Johnson claimed their talc was asbestos-free.
What Egilman discovered in company documents was that Johnson & Johnson used faulty tests in order to push the “asbestos-free” claim. The tests were simply not sensitive enough to detect the presence of asbestos. It would seem, then, that these tests weren’t done in the name of consumer safety.
During another talc-asbestos trial last year, Egilman explained to the jury that Johnson & Johnsons’ tests were like trying to weigh a needle on a bathroom scale. Of course “nothing” showed up on the tests.
Even so, Johnson & Johnson still had concerns about reports from their mines. On occasions where asbestos was detected, memos were circulated. Johnson & Johnson ordered additional testing, but never shared this information with regulators. Considering there is no safe level of asbestos exposure, there is an obvious problem with Johnson & Johnsons’ lack of transparency.
Talcosis and Infant Asphyxiation
Along with the safety risk posed by asbestos exposure, Johnson & Johnson was aware that their talc products could also cause talcosis or infant asphyxiation. According to Egilman, internal documents show that the man who oversaw talc operations for Johnson & Johnson from the 1960s through the 1990s failed to warn consumers and regulators of these dangers.
Talcosis, also known as talc pneumoconiosis, is a terrible lung disease that comes from prolonged exposure to talc. It may result from intravenous drug use, but often talcosis develops after someone has inhaled talcum powder. Like mesothelioma, there is usually a long delay, often decades, between exposure and the beginning of symptoms.
In addition to asphyxiation, inhalation of talcum powder can lead to other severe respiratory difficulties. Complications resulting from talc inhalation may develop into:
- Massive bronchitis
- Bronchitis with pulmonary edema
- Compensatory emphysema
Both infants and adults can become sick from inhaling baby powder, and its use is discouraged. Baby powders that use corn-starch instead of talc are safe and non-toxic.
Johnson & Johnson Continues to Stand by Their Products
These are hardly the first such revelations about Johnson & Johnson’s allegedly deadly practice of keeping regulators and the American public in the dark. Despite the evidence and the losses in court, the company has only doubled-down on their assertions about the safety of their talc products.
If presenting documents in court that prove Johnson & Johnson lied doesn’t force them to change their ways, what will?