Recently Unsealed Documents Raise the Question – Did Johnson & Johnson Know That its Talcum Powder Products Contained Asbestos?

James F. Humphreys & Associates, L.C. has long represented workers who were injured or killed by exposure to asbestos products, and more recently, women who developed ovarian cancer after using talcum powder products for personal hygiene. These tend to be separate practice areas, but sometimes they overlap.

Although talcum powder which is asbestos free can cause ovarian cancer, some cases have been brought which allege injuries from talcum powder associated with asbestos contamination. In one such case , Ingham v. Johnson & Johnson, No. 1522-CC10417, Circuit Court for the City Of  St. Louis, Missouri, recently unsealed documents arguably show that Johnson & Johnson (J&J) knowingly concealed the presence of asbestos in its talcum powder products such as baby powder.

Joanne Waldstreicher, J&J’s Chief Medical Officer since 2013, was deposed in the Ingham case in April of this year. During her deposition, various company documents were used which show that J&J employees were trained to reassure people that its products were safe and asbestos-free even though the company was concerned that talcum powder from some of its mines and suppliers might be contaminated with asbestos fibers.

One undated memo indicates that employees were instructed to tell people that asbestos “has never been found and it never  will” in the company’s baby powder. But a company report from 1973 indicates that talcum from its Windsor Materials mine in Vermont “contains talc fibers classifiable as fiber. Occasionally sub-trace quantities of “ 2 types of asbestos “are identifiable and those might be classified as asbestos fiber.” According to this report, a company official suggested using cornstarch instead of powdered talc in its products.

In May, 1974, a J&J official at the company’s Vermont mine recommended “the use of citric acid in the depression of chrysotile asbestos” in talc from the mine. The director of research and development at the mine wrote then that “”The use of these systems is strongly urged by this writer to provide protection against what are currently considered to be materials presenting a severe health hazard and are potentially present in all talc ores in use at this time.”

Other documents indicate that the company obtained some of its talcum from a mine near Turin, Italy.  Val Chisone, the company which owned the mine, produced a marketing booklet in 1974 which indicated that trace amounts of asbestos had been found in its talc. A J&J scientist who read the booklet warned that : “The business threat is that it can raise  doubts  on the validity of the documentation of purity and safety of talc.” He prevailed upon the Italian mining company to stop the distribution of English language versions of the booklet until it could be rewritten by J&J.

Other documents show that Barry Castleman, a well known authority on asbestos , wrote J&J in 1972 to advise them that asbestos in talcum products could cause serious health products, but the company replied that there was no asbestos in their products. The plaintiffs in the Ingham case allege, however, that some studies have found asbestos in J&J products. Since the 1970s, the FDA has required that cosmetic talcum products be asbestos free.

Asbestos contamination claims have been brought against other companies selling talcum products, such as Colgate-Palmolive, Whittaker, Clark & Daniels, Inc., and R.T. Vanderbilt,  but J&J is a relative newcomer to this litigation, probably because there was little publicly available information about the mines supplying its talc. The recent disclosures in Ingham, however, have brought this issue to the fore.

If you or a loved one have been injured by asbestos products or talcum powder products, call James F. Humphreys & Associates, L.C. at 304-881-0652 (local) or 877-341-2595 (toll free) for a free initial consultation. Or contact us through our website, www.jfhumphreys.com. You may be able to obtain compensation for your loss.

For more information, see Bloomberg, “J&J Was alerted to Risk of Asbestos in Talc in ‘70s, Files Show, “ https://www.bloomberg.com/…/j-j-was alerted-to-risk-of asbestos-in-talc-70s-files…

Bloomberg BNA News, “Johnson & Johnson’s Newest Talc Problem? Asbestos, “

https://www.bna.com/johnson-johnsons-newest-n579820879558/

Chicago tribune, “Johnson & Johnson alerted to risk of asbestos in talc in ‘70s, files show,” www.chicagotribune.com/…/ct-johnson-johnson-talc-asbestos-warning-2010922-sto

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