Last year, a jury awarded a California woman $417 million when she developed ovarian cancer after almost a lifetime of using Johnson & Johnson Baby Powder. The award included $70 million in compensatory damages and a whopping $347 million in punitive damages. If a new Reuters report is accurate, though, that may be just the tip of the iceberg for Johnson & Johnson.
Reuters reviewed internal documents indicating the company knew its baby powder was sometimes tainted with asbestos, a known carcinogen, but kept that information from regulators and the public, thereby letting its customers sprinkle asbestos on their bodies–and on their babies–for decades.
Both talc (the basis of talcum powder) and asbestos are naturally occurring minerals that are found together in the earth, making it easy to accidentally mine asbestos along with the talc. Because of that, Johnson & Johnson regularly tested its talc and, according to Reuters, “from at least 1971 to the early 2000s, the company’s raw talc and finished powders sometimes tested positive for small amounts of asbestos” and executives and other employees failed “to disclose it to regulators or the public.”
Johnson & Johnson, of course, denies these claims and even Reuters admits that most tests did not find asbestos, but points out that “only a tiny fraction of the company’s talc is tested.” But to be clear, the World Health Organization says there is no safe level of exposure to asbestos.
We’ve reached out to Johnson & Johnson for comment and will update if we hear back.
Johnson & Johnson shares plunged 9% after the report came out, CNBC reports.
Per Reuters, around 11,700 plaintiffs are claiming that Johnson & Johnson’s talc caused their cancers, including thousands of women with ovarian cancer, and some juries are starting to find in their favor. The company has said it will appeal the recent verdicts against it.