The U.S. Justice Department’s fraud unit has launched a criminal investigation to determine whether Johnson & Johnson was aware that the talc it used in some of its products, including its iconic Johnson’s Baby Powder, was contaminated with asbestos and put users at risk of developing cancer, according to Bloomberg.

The Justice Department, along with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, requested documents and internal communications from the consumer health care giant. The Justice Department is likely looking for any conflicts in the documents that would point to whether any securities-fraud laws were violated.

The criminal investigation will likely impact the more than 12,000 lawsuits filed by consumers who say they developed ovarian cancer or mesothelioma, a rare but deadly form of cancer linked to asbestos exposure, after using Johnson & Johnson’s talcum powder products. Plaintiffs may be less inclined to agree to a settlement until they know whether criminal charges will be filed. If they are filed, it could bolster plaintiffs’ argument that the company is liable for their injuries.

Some J&J investors have also filed lawsuits against the company claiming they were defrauded by J&J because the company failed to disclose that the talc it used in its products contained asbestos, a known carcinogen.

Talc is a mineral that is mined from the earth in much the same fashion and location as asbestos. Internal memos from J&J revealed during litigation showed that the company knew for decades that asbestos was found in some of the talc used in its talcum powder products, including Johnson’s Baby Powder and Shower to Shower body powder. However, the lawsuits contend, the company refused to warn consumers or notify federal authorities.

The attorneys in our Mass Torts section have been privileged to represent thousands of women who developed ovarian cancer after using talcum powder in the genital area. Beasley Allen’s Talc Litigation team has partnered with other law firms around the country to take these cases to court. Ted Meadows is heading up the talc trial team, and Leigh O’Dell is serving as co-lead counsel for consolidated multidistrict litigation (MDL) in New Jersey federal court. Beasley Allen also represents clients diagnosed with mesothelioma and asbestos-related diseases. For more information about asbestos litigation, contact our lead mesothelioma attorney Sharon Zinns.

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