With over a century of history, Johnson & Johnson (J&J) has evolved into a global healthcare giant, renowned for its extensive range of consumer and pharmaceutical products. 

Founded in 1886 by Robert Wood Johnson, James Wood Johnson, and Edward Mead Johnson, the company started as a small family-run business focused on providing innovative healthcare solutions. Over time, Johnson & Johnson has grown significantly and is now a household name across the globe.

Throughout its long history, Johnson & Johnson has faced its share of controversies and legal challenges. One of the most significant issues that have garnered public attention is its association with talc and asbestos exposure. Concerns have arisen in recent years regarding the potential presence of asbestos in talc deposits used by J&J in their products. Asbestos poses severe health risks when inhaled or ingested, and its presence in talcum powder raised alarming health concerns among consumers and regulators alike.

Johnson & Johnson Asbestos Lawsuits

Johnson & Johnson has faced many notable lawsuits in recent years relating to the use of asbestos in their products, including:

  • February 2016: Jacqueline Fox’s surviving family was awarded $72 million by a St. Louis jury in a case where she claimed her ovarian cancer resulted from prolonged exposure to Johnson & Johnson’s talc products. The jury found J&J guilty of failing to warn the public and conspiring to conceal evidence of asbestos contamination.
  • October 2017: In a class-action lawsuit against J&J, evidence emerged indicating that the company had been aware of asbestos contamination in its talcum powder products as early as the 1970s. Despite this knowledge, J&J trained its employees to assure the public that their products were free from any such contamination. The lawsuit was filed by over 50 women diagnosed with ovarian cancer.
  • April 2018: A New Jersey jury ordered Johnson & Johnson and Imerys Talc America to pay $80 million in punitive damages to Stephen Lanzo III. Lanzo claimed he developed mesothelioma due to using the company’s Johnson’s Baby Powder and Shower to Shower products between 1972 and 2003. The week prior, Lanzo was awarded $37 million in compensatory damages, resulting in a total verdict of $117 million. This marked Johnson & Johnson’s first loss in an asbestos talcum powder lawsuit. The verdict was thrown out on appeal in 2021.
  • July 2021: J&J faced a lawsuit from a Black women’s advocacy group alleging that the company engaged in deceptive marketing targeted towards Black women, intending to promote talc products within a demographic that was disproportionately vulnerable to potential health risks.
  • July 2023: A California man was awarded $18.8 million by a jury over exposure to asbestos as a result of using J&J products. Emory Hernandez Valadez developed mesothelioma in the tissue around his heart. Due to the bankruptcy court order freezing most litigation over J&J’s talc, the man will not be able to collect the judgment in the foreseeable future.

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The FDA, Talcum Powder and Asbestos

In October 2019, retailers across the U.S. removed Johnson & Johnson’s talc-based baby powder from their shelves after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) discovered asbestos in one of the containers. The company voluntarily recalled a batch of 33,000 bottles, part of which was found to be contaminated with asbestos during the FDA’s review of 43 cosmetic samples, revealing nine of them to be affected.

For years, it has been widely recognized that certain sources of talc are naturally contaminated with asbestos, known to cause mesothelioma. These two minerals often coexist in the same geological formations. Despite this knowledge, Johnson & Johnson did not sufficiently address the issue of asbestos contamination in its flagship consumer product, baby powder.

Asbestos is subject to regulation at the federal, state, and local levels, but talc, unfortunately, lacks government oversight. Consequently, the cosmetics industry is left to self-regulate its use of talc, leading to asbestos contamination in consumer products. The FDA has been conducting further tests on cosmetic products.

The History of Johnson & Johnson and Asbestos

In the late 1950s, the first indication of tainted talc at Johnson & Johnson emerged when samples from their Italian supplier were found to contain fibrous and needle-like tremolite – a form of asbestos. Despite this finding, J&J proceeded with talc production, dismissing the potential risks associated with asbestos exposure. 

Over the next two decades, multiple tests conducted by different laboratories detected traces of asbestos in Johnson & Johnson’s talcum powder, with one lab reporting relatively high levels.

In response to growing concerns, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) began imposing asbestos limits in cosmetic talc products in 1976. Johnson & Johnson assured that no asbestos had been detected in any talc sample produced between 1972 and 1973. However, the company reportedly failed to disclose the asbestos traces uncovered by the three different labs during the same period.

Johnson & Johnson faced its first asbestos claim in the late 1990s from a Texas woman diagnosed with mesothelioma. J&J denied the allegation and allegedly withheld talc tests, internal reports, and documents, causing the lawsuit to be dropped. 

Is Baby Powder Safe From Asbestos?

Baby powder, a product based on talcum (talc) powder, contains a soft mineral naturally occurring throughout the country, mainly composed of magnesium, silicon, and oxygen. 

Talc serves as the primary component, utilized for its moisture-absorbing properties, to combat oils, odors, and infections. Often marketed to women for themselves or their babies, baby powder carries a potential risk for asbestos exposure and subsequent asbestos-related diseases, as talc and asbestos are frequently found in close proximity underground, leading to possible contamination during the mining process. 

Though talc itself is noncancerous, the risk of asbestos contamination remains significant while it is still in its natural state in the earth.

Johnson & Johnson – Asbestos Investigations and News

An investigative report by Reuters in 2018 exposed the company’s long-standing knowledge of asbestos contamination in its talc products, dating back decades. Despite tests conducted by various laboratories finding asbestos in Johnson & Johnson’s talc from 1971 to the early 2000s, the company failed to report these findings to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The scrutiny intensified when the U.S. Department of Justice launched a criminal investigation in July 2019, aiming to determine if the company deliberately deceived the public regarding asbestos fibers in its talcum powder. This ongoing criminal investigation may take several years to reach a resolution. 

In October 2021, the company’s talc subsidiary filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, having allocated around $4 billion to address lawsuits claiming that Johnson’s Baby Powder, caused cancer, including ovarian cancer and mesothelioma. Multiple plaintiffs have already been awarded millions of dollars in compensation.
In early 2023, Johnson & Johnson’s bankruptcy plan for talc-related lawsuits was rejected by a federal appeals court. This landmark ruling will send nearly 40,000 talc lawsuits back to the civil court system for further proceedings.

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Written and legally reviewed by Samuel Meirowitz

Attorney and On-Site Legal Advocate

Samuel Meirowitz is a member of the “Top 100 Trial Lawyers.” Mr. Meirowitz was named a “Rising Star” in 2013 & 2014 by Super Lawyers and then a Super Lawyer every year since 2016. In 2013, Mr. Meirowitz obtained what is believed to be the first multi-million-dollar asbestos verdict seen in more than two decades in a New York federal court. In that highly contentious matter, Mr. Meirowitz was able to convince the jury to hold a boiler manufacturer responsible for 60 percent of the $3.8 million awarded, despite the defendant’s attempt to escape all blame by pointing fingers at the plaintiff’s employer and the U.S. Navy (in which the plaintiff admirably served from 1966-70 during the Vietnam conflict). This verdict was upheld by the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.

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