Johnson & Johnson (J&J) knew its products put customers at risk of developing cancer as early as 1971, according to testimony last week in the latest of lawsuits against the company.
Environmental scientist James Webber was 1 of the first witnesses to testify in the high-profile California trial over claims that J&J’s Baby Powder caused a dying woman’s mesothelioma. Allegedly, J&J knew from multiple studies that the talc-based product was laced with millions of cancer-causing asbestos fibers.
Baby Powder’s contamination with asbestos (a mineral that naturally occurs near talc) has long been the subject of lawsuits. But only in recent years has evidence begun to unravel J&J’s defense – that the company had no idea – and threatened its success in lawsuits to come.
Scientist Questioned about J&J’s Knowledge of Asbestos
During several hours on the stand, Webber explained how he ran tests that showed “clear” evidence of asbestos contamination in the mines from which J&J sourced talc.
“The testing I have seen [shows] that it was present at least as early as 1971 and up through the late 1990s,” said Webber, who ran an asbestos laboratory in New York state.
Despite denying it publicly, J&J had observed this contamination in internal memos. Its notes dismissed the amount of asbestos in its talc as “but a trace,” Webber alleged. But that was just an optimistic interpretation of superficial testing, he said: the tests used methods too weak to detect microscopic asbestos fibers. Webber insisted the actual tests results revealed there could be millions of asbestos fibers per gram of talc.
And J&J’s inaccurate reports were allegedly only the tip of the iceberg. In some instances, Webber said, photos attached to J&J’s reports revealed that “they had been seeing it and not reporting it.”
Johnson & Johnson Baby Powder and Cancer
Companies that mine talc are required to take extra steps to ensure the absence of asbestos in their talc. Instead, J&J allegedly went to great lengths to fake it.
Not only did the company know about the asbestos contamination, evidence suggests, but J&J also failed to warn its customers about the link between Baby Powder and cancer or replace its talc with a safer alternative. As a result, J&J guaranteed its customers’ exposure to asbestos.
And regardless of their size or numbers, asbestos fibers are lethal at any capacity. As the World Health Organization (WHO) has stressed repeatedly, there is no safe level of exposure.
Best case scenario, J&J customers were deceived by a company entrusted with their health. But in the worst cases, claimants say they developed mesothelioma, ovarian cancer, and other asbestos-caused diseases as a result of using J&J’s products – which have been proven in many lawsuits to irrevocably injure or even kill unsuspecting consumers.
A History of Deception Comes Back to Bite J&J
Webber’s findings were only the latest of similar results from several different laboratories, each using different methods to draw the same conclusion: a “long history” and cover-up of asbestos pollution in talc mines. And this lawsuit is only the latest in thousands filed against J&J in the last few years.
You need only look at the past year to understand its staggering rate of losses:
- January: News outlet FairWarning publishes findings from internal documents unsealed in October 2017, revealing the worst of the decades-long cover-up.
- April: J&J is hit with a $117 Million verdict in a new front of litigation linking baby powder and mesothelioma.
- May: J&J is hit with a $27 Million verdict in its second trial loss over claims linking baby powder and mesothelioma.
- July: J&J is hit with a $4.7 Billion verdict in a suit brought by 22 women over claims linking baby powder and ovarian cancer.
- December: J&J’s stocks plunge by $50 Billion in 1 day after Reuters added its own report on the cover-up to the mix.
Since talc-asbestos lawsuits started going to trial in 2016, Johnson & Johnson has shelled out more than $5 Billion in awards to ovarian cancer victims alone. Nothing about its talc products has changed.
And now J&J faces more than 6,500 claims in the fast-emerging mesothelioma litigation. As evidence continues to mount that J&J knowingly endangered its customers, this litigation could set an important precedent for plaintiffs’ chances of success: that J&J cannot deny the contamination of Baby Powder as they have denied that it directly causes cancer. In the meantime, consumers would be wise to avoid the product altogether.