In the news world, there are stories and then there are bombshells. And when it comes to dropping bombshells, Reuters may have gone all the way to thermonuclear this month. The news agency has released an investigative report that states categorically that not only did Johnson & Johnson Baby Powder sometimes contain asbestos, but the corporation knew about it and actively worked to conceal that information from the public and regulatory agencies.
The news comes after countless denials from Johnson and Johnson officials and attorneys who have gone on the record and stated unequivocally that the company’s products do not contain asbestos and that their conclusion is “supported by more than 50 years of independent, non-litigation driven scientific evaluations.” In nearly every trial involving claims of asbestos-linked mesothelioma, J&J officials have appeared almost defiant in their stance and left little, if any, room for interpretation of their statements. There was no way that consumers could be getting mesothelioma from using their Baby Powder product “because [its talc powder] does not contain asbestos.”
The truth has finally emerged in spite of J&J’s constant denials and thanks to Reuters we’re now aware that the talc mining process does, in fact, create a situation where asbestos and talc can intermingle and that the corporation has known about these dangers for decades.Three separate lab tests conducted on Johnson and Johnson talc in the 1970s showed asbestos in the samples. One sample showed levels observed to be “rather high.” These positives continued well into the early 2000s.
Incredibly, even in the face of public disclosure of a trove of internal documents that show the lengths J&J was willing to go to protect itself and its profits, officials continue to deny the allegations. However, in addition to actively working internally to avoid revealing the situation to the public, it appears that Johnson & Johnson officials also worked to influence regulatory efforts to limit asbestos’ presence in cosmetic products as well as limiting research on the safety of talc.
In response to the Reuters report, J&J’s vice president of global media relations Ernie Knewitz emailed the news agency stating that “this is all a calculated attempt to distract from the fact that thousands of independent tests prove our talc does not contain asbestos or cause cancer. Any suggestion that Johnson & Johnson knew or hid information about the safety of talc is false.”
Wall Street was not kind to J&J in light of the report. In its worst day since 2002, Johnson and Johnson lost almost $40 billion of its market value. The Reuters report can be read in full here.