NEW YORK — On Monday, December 17, Johnson & Johnson CEO Alex Gorsky appeared on a CNBC broadcast to address reports from major media outlets that his company has known for decades that its talc-based baby powder contains traces of asbestos, and the resulting $50 billion drop in market value of the company’s stock.
In reaction to that interview and specific statements made by Mr. Gorsky, the following comments are offered from Ted Meadows of the Beasley Allen law firm and a leader of the trial team in ongoing talc litigation, and Leigh O’Dell, attorney at the Beasley Allen law firm and co-chair of the plaintiffs’ committee currently in consolidated litigation against J&J based on claims that long-term genital application of the company’s talcum-based products has led to ovarian cancer in thousands of U.S. women.
Gorsky: “We believe the talc is safe…that’s not only what we believe, but it’s what studies have demonstrated.”
- More than 25 credible, peer-reviewed studies show an increased risk of ovarian cancer in women using talcum powder for feminine hygiene. The first study showing this relationship appeared in 1982. Later studies have shown that avoiding the use of talcum powder in the genital area could reduce cancer risk by at least 10 percent. Given that some 21,000 women in the U.S. are diagnosed with ovarian cancer every year, and about 14,000 die from it annually, that represents a significant percentage.
- J&J has posted four studies on the company’s website in an effort to negate this increased risk, but these studies were not designed to specifically address the association between genital talc use and ovarian cancer. Despite their limitations, even these studies (for example the Gertig report) show a significant increase in serous carcinoma of the ovary – the most common and lethal form of ovarian cancer – in women using talcum powder on a routine basis.
- A recent review and analysis combining 27 studies (24 case-control and the 3 cohort studies) found that women who have used talc for feminine hygiene more than 3,600 times increase their ovarian cancer risk by at least 42 percent.
- At least seven other studies show that talcum powder particles can reach the ovaries through the genital tract, resulting in inflammation.
- Numerous studies demonstrate that inflammation plays a role in the initiation and progression of malignancies, including ovarian cancer. This research indicates that talcum powder can cause ovarian cancer through the same inflammatory processes and cancer-causing gene mutations.
- It is well known that asbestos is a potent cancer-causing agent and that all forms of asbestos (actinolite, amosite, anthophyllite, crocidolite, tremolite and chrysotile) cause cancer. Newly revealed documents show that J&J was aware asbestos and other contaminants were found in at least some processed baby powder products. These and other documents also show efforts by the company to downplay the dangers, protect the brand and inappropriately influence the medical community and federal regulators about the safety of talc.
Gorsky: “The FDA consistently approved our testing methodology, as well as the fact that our talc, our baby powder was safe.”
- Unlike drugs, the Federal Food Cosmetic Act does not require the premarket approval of cosmetics such as baby powder. J&J is responsible for the safety of its products, and the FDA has blindly taken J&J at its word that talc is safe. However, internal documents have shown that the company chooses to use testing methods that are not sensitive enough to accurately measure the level of contaminants in its talcum powder products.
Gorsky: “[Johnson & Johnson] would not allow a product that they felt in any way could be harmful to stay on the market.”
- Again, corporate documents show the decades-long concerns of J&J management that its talcum powder products contain known carcinogens such as asbestos, and that talc-based Johnson’s Baby Powder is too valuable to the company’s brand to remove from the market, despite those concerns, and the associated science.
Gorsky: “I came on here because I think it’s important for …all of our stakeholders to ensure that they know every day the 140,000 employees of Johnson & Johnson around the world are doing their best to ensure the safety and high quality of our products and everything that we do.”
- It’s interesting that while J&J lawyers have stated repeatedly that Mr. Gorsky has no knowledge of the questionable safety and science about talcum powder, the company chose to put him forward to address the financial markets in the midst of a stock price meltdown. As a corporation there appears to be greater concern about the financial numbers, instead of the thousands of women who have used J&J talcum powder products and developed ovarian cancer.
As a result, the Beasley Allen attorneys are calling on Johnson & Johnson to remove its talc-based Johnson’s Baby Powder from the market, or at minimum provide an adequate warning label to alert consumers of the dangers of genital application and the strong association with ovarian cancer.