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J&J Allegedly Knew Asbestos Was in Baby Powder -- Will There Be a Recall?

Johnson & Johnson is facing hundreds of lawsuits filed by over 10,000 plaintiffs alleging the company's baby powder contained dangerous levels of asbestos in the talc used to create it. After losing several high-profile, high-damages jury verdicts (and having another overturned on appeal) a bombshell Reuters report shows J&J knew there was asbestos in its baby powder as far back as the early 1970's and spent the ensuing decades misleading customers and U.S. regulators.

Normally, such revelations would lead to a recall of potentially dangerous products. But after years of litigation on the matter (and hundreds of claims still in the courts), Johnson & Johnson maintains that its talc-based baby powder is perfectly safe.

Powder Keg

According to the Reuters report, documents, trial and deposition testimony, and other evidence submitted in baby powder litigation demonstrates that "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 that company executives, mine managers, scientists, doctors and lawyers fretted over the problem and how to address it while failing to disclose it to regulators or the public." Reuters also detailed Johnson & Johnson's successful lobbying efforts to stifle scientific research into the health effects of talc generally, and specifically influence any attempts to limit asbestos in cosmetic talc products.

The World Health Organization notes that asbestos exposure causes lung cancer, mesothelioma, cancer of the larynx and ovary, and asbestosis, and recognizes no safe level of exposure to asbestos. And some studies have linked regular talcum powder use by women in the genital area to an increased risk of ovarian cancer.

Competing Research

Still, Johnson & Johnson has not issued a recall for any of its talc-based products. "Research, clinical evidence and nearly 40 years of studies by medical experts around the world continue to support the safety of cosmetic talc," according to a company website:

Even with talc's long history of safe use in consumer products, some have questioned whether using talcum powder can increase a person's risk of developing cancer. Recently, there have been questions raised as to whether the talc used in consumer products is contaminated with asbestos. The weight of the science does not support any claim that our talc products cause cancer.

Johnson & Johnson also responded specifically to the Reuters report: "Reuters declined to report on the critical, dispositive science conducted by independent, leading health researchers that examined the carcinogenic effects of cosmetic talc products and concluded that talc is safe and does not cause ovarian cancer or mesothelioma."

Litigation claiming the contrary remains ongoing, with Johnson & Johnson's talc-based hygiene products remain on the shelves.

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