Johnson & Johnson Has Known For Decades That There's Asbestos In Its Baby Powder

Doing what's right and doing what's easy are seldom the same thing. But doing what's right and doing what's best for a business sure ought to be the same thing, whether it's easy or not.

It's been shown, time and again, that when corporations avoid taking responsibility for bad things and fail to clean up their act, they pay for it, and pay hard. And the latest to find itself in the crosshairs is Johnson & Johnson.

An explosive report by Reuters has blown away Johnson & Johnson's pure, clean image and exposed a decades-long coverup.

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According to the report, one its flagship products, in just about every home, contains asbestos. Not only that, the company has been aware that its Baby Powder contains the cancer-causing chemical for decades.

The revelation comes as a result of an investigation into how one woman managed to contract mesothelioma, the cancer linked to asbestos exposure.

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Mesothelioma typically shows up in people who mined asbestos or who have been in regular, close contact with it. But Darlene Coker, the woman in question, definitely didn't fit that category. Rather, she used Baby Powder, both on herself and her kids, for years.

Talc, the main ingredient in Baby Powder, is a mineral that often occurs near asbestos in nature.

Darlene sued Johnson & Johnson, but the company denied her claims, saying its Baby Powder was asbestos-free.

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She couldn't prove it, so she had to drop her lawsuit. However, talcum powder has since been loosely linked to ovarian cancer, and Johnson & Johnson faces thousands of lawsuits over that. In that litigation, the company had to hand over thousands of pages of documents going back decades, where Reuters made a stunning discovery.

The internal memos and documents the company had to reveal seem quite damning.

Reuters said that the documents show "that 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 that 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."

That's not even the whole story. There wasn't just an internal cover-up, but a campaign to influence health regulations regarding asbestos content in talc.

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And the documents refer to asbestos contaminating Johnson & Johnson's talc long before the '70s. The earliest mention is from 1957! Lab reports going into the 2000s still note asbestos contamination.

That's not to say that all talc the company tested contained asbestos — many of the lab findings were clean — but the company also only tested a tiny fraction of the talc it used.

What effect this will all have on all those lawsuits going forward remains to be seen.

Imgur | stephinary

For Johnson & Johnson in general, however, it's clearly bad news. The only thing dropping harder than Reuters' report is Johnson & Johnson's share price — hours after the report came out, its stock had plunged up to 11%.

Johnson & Johnson has denied Reuters' reporting, calling the article "one-sided, false and inflammatory...Johnson & Johnson's baby powder is safe and asbestos-free."

h/t: Reuters

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