WASHINGTON, D.C. – Johnson & Johnson has revealed that the company is being investigated by the Justice Department (DOJ) and the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) over safety concerns about its talc-based products, including Johnson’s Baby Powder. In a corporate securities filing, J&J said it was “cooperating with these government inquiries and will be producing documents in response” to subpoenas it had received.
The inquiry was apparently spurred by numerous news reports in recent months showing that J&J has been concerned for decades about the risk of asbestos and other contaminants in its talcum powder products, and that coverage outlines J&J’s efforts to suppress regulatory and public awareness of those potential dangers.
For several years juries across the nation have found J&J liable for the ovarian cancer diagnoses of more than two dozen women, resulting in billions of dollars in damages. While some verdicts have been overturned on jurisdictional grounds, attorneys say the evidence of the inherent dangers in talcum powder use cannot be ignored.
“We applaud these agencies for this investigation, and we know what they will find,” said Beasley Allen lawyer Leigh O’Dell, co-lead counsel for plaintiffs in multidistrict litigation against J&J on behalf of ovarian cancer victims. “At trial we have presented the expert testimony and the overwhelming scientific evidence that talcum powder use can cause ovarian cancer. We’ve also shown the internal corporate documents that reveal a decades-long pattern of sabotage and subterfuge to deny that this threat exists for women around the world.”
Leigh also said that she and other attorneys would cooperate with any governmental requests for testimony, documents and background information.
“We’d urge J&J to come clean about this risk, compensate these victims and their families, and provide adequate warnings on its packaging or simply pull this product off the shelves,” said Ted Meadows, a member of the trial team that has secured substantial verdicts against the company. “There are safer alternatives that exist, including J&J’s own corn starch-based powder.”
Ted notes that the internal J&J documents revealed at trial, as well as in the initial reporting by Reuters and The New York Times, clearly show attempts by J&J to influence the FDA and promote safety testing not sensitive enough to adequately detect contaminants such as asbestos in its talcum powder products.
Last week, Imerys Talc America, a major supplier of talc used by Johnson & Johnson and a defendant in some of the lawsuits, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, largely based on concerns over litigation costs. Johnson & Johnson faces around 13,000 lawsuits in which its body powders are blamed for causing ovarian cancer or mesothelioma.
In late January, Senator Patty Murray, the top Democrat on the Republican-controlled Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions asked J&J CEO Alex Gorsky for documents and information regarding the company’s testing of talcum powder products, and how that information is presented to regulators and consumers.
In December, Health Canada issued a draft assessment to all health care providers in the nation warning of the dangers of talcum powder use and proposed adding talc to the government’s list of toxic substances that can pose risks to human health. Other countries, including India, have announced similar efforts.
Bloomberg – J&J Left to Fend for Itself in Talc Suits After Supplier’s Bankruptcy
The New York Times – Johnson & Johnson Baby Powder at Issue as U.S. Subpoenas Company
The Wall Street Journal – Johnson & Johnson Is Subpoenaed for Talc Safety Information
CNBC – Johnson & Johnson receives federal subpoenas related to baby powder litigation
Reuters – Johnson & Johnson receives federal subpoenas related to baby powder litigation
Law360 – J&J Subpoenaed Over Claims Of Asbestos In Baby Powder
The Hill – Johnson & Johnson subpoenaed by DOJ and SEC, company says
Today Show (Video) – Johnson & Johnson facing suits over baby powder’s reported cancer link
NBC News (Video) – DOJ and SEC subpoena Johnson & Johnson in talc powder asbestos probe