Johnson & Johnson(J&J) knew for decades that there was asbestos in baby talcum powder, according to news agency Reuters.
J&J’s effort to protect its iconic Baby Powder franchise by shaping research was led by physician and scientist executives.
After successfully defending a lawsuit over asbestos in 1999, J&J have now been compelled to hand over thousands of pages of company memos, internal reports and other confidential documents.
These are being shared with lawyers for some of the 11,700 plaintiffs now claiming that the company’s talc caused their cancers – including thousands of women with ovarian cancer.
An examination of many of those documents, as well as deposition and trial testimony, shows 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.
Not just that but 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.
The World Health Organization and other authorities recognize no safe level of exposure to asbestos.
While most people exposed never develop cancer, for some, even small amounts of asbestos are enough to trigger the disease years later. Just how small hasn’t been established.
In July J&J were ordered to pay more than £3.5 billion to 22 women who claim the firm’s talc gave them cancer.
Many plaintiffs allege that the amounts they inhaled when they dusted themselves with tainted talcum powder were enough.
The evidence of what J&J knew has surfaced after people who suspected that talc caused their cancers hired lawyers experienced in the decades-long deluge of litigation involving workers exposed to asbestos.
Some of the lawyers knew from those earlier cases that talc producers tested for asbestos, and they began demanding J&J’s testing documentation.
What J&J produced in response to those demands has allowed plaintiffs’ lawyers to refine their argument: The culprit wasn’t necessarily talc itself, but also asbestos in the talc.
Talc, the world’s softest rock, is a mineral closely linked to asbestos and the two substances can appear in close proximity in the earth.
Plaintiffs claim the two can become intermingled in the mining process, making it impossible to remove the carcinogenic substance.
J&J denies those allegations, saying rigorous testing and purification processes ensure its talc is clean.
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