Johnson & Johnson faces more than 13,000 lawsuits alleging its talc products have caused ovarian cancer or mesothelioma, a rare form of cancer caused by asbestos exposure. But the company faces even bigger woes now that it is under investigation by the U.S. Justice Department (DOJ) and the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).
J&J has been asked by the agencies to provide documentation on just how aware it was that the talc in some of its products, including the iconic Johnson’s Baby Powder, was contaminated with asbestos and other contaminants that could cause cancer.
“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 the multidistrict litigation against Johnson & Johnson involving ovarian cancer claims. “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.”
J&J has held firm to its stance that its talcum powder products are safe despite a cascade of events that put those claims into question. In December, a Reuters investigation revealed that the company’s internal documents showed the company knew for decades that the talc it used contained asbestos, yet J&J failed to alert regulators or warn the public.
In late January, Sen. Patty Murray on the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions asked Johnson & Johnson CEO Alex Gorsky for documents and other information involving its testing on talc and how it presented the information to regulators and consumers. In late February, J&J was hit with a subpoena from the DOJ and the SEC requesting similar documentation in the name of public health.
Also in February, J&J’s talc supplier, Imerys Talc America, announced it had filed for bankruptcy in an effort to protect itself from more than 14,600 lawsuits in the U.S. involving cancer claims. Imerys had been named in several lawsuits along with Johnson & Johnson. The filing allows Imerys to establish a trust to fund current and future lawsuits, and to negotiate lower payments to suing parties.