Johnson & Johnson is well-known for many personal hygiene and pharmaceutical products. One of its most popular products, talcum powder, may be contaminated with asbestos. This has triggered several lawsuits against the company in recent years over illnesses like mesothelioma and ovarian cancer.
Johnson & Johnson History and Asbestos
Today Johnson & Johnson is a large international company with more than 130,000 employees and billions of dollars in sales. It is one of the world’s most recognizable brands for medical devices, pharmaceuticals, and personal care products.
- The origins of the company date back to 1886 when brothers Robert Wood, James Wood, and Edward Mead Johnson came together to open a factory in New Jersey. They made sterile and absorbent cotton, sterile surgical supplies, and medicated plasters.
- The company grew rapidly and continued to innovate medical and personal hygiene products. In 1894 Johnson & Johnson introduced Baby Powder along with other maternity-related products.
- Baby Powder has now been connected with potential asbestos contamination and numerous lawsuits over mesothelioma and ovarian cancer.
- When the U.S. Food and Drug Administration found asbestos in some of the company’s talcum powder, stores pulsed the products from shelves in 2019. By 2020, Johnson & Johnson had ended the sale of talcum powder in the U.S. and Canada.
- The company also continued to produce products for health care and sanitation that were accessible and affordable to more people.
- Johnson & Johnson also made the first mass-market versions of a first-aid kit. These included the company’s Band-Aid, an invention they released in 1921.
- Beginning in the 1960s, Johnson & Johnson began to focus more resources on pharmaceuticals. It played an important role in creating tamper-resistant pill bottles after people died from contaminated Tylenol. The company invented disposable contact lenses and coronary stents.
Today, Johnson & Johnson reaches more than $70 billion a year in sales from hundreds of subsidiaries. Only in recent years has the company faced backlash over the connection between talcum powder and cancer, resulting in many lawsuits.
Is Baby Powder Safe?
Johnson & Johnson continues to claim that its talcum powder products are safe to use. This is in spite of thousands of lawsuits claiming they caused cancer. The evidence indicates there is a connection.
Johnson & Johnson and Asbestos
Johnson & Johnson never got involved in any asbestos products. However, talcum powder, for which the company is well known, can be contaminated with asbestos. Both are natural minerals. When mined, talc may contain contaminating asbestos that should be removed during processing.
Government regulations and agreements made by producers of personal hygiene products are supposed to ensure that these products never contain asbestos. Studies continue to find asbestos in talcum powder.
The Connection Between Talcum Powder and Cancer
Asbestos exposure can cause tissue and cellular damage in the body that leads to cancer. Studies have confirmed that regular use of talcum powder over decades does increase the risk of developing certain cancers. This includes ovarian cancer in women.
Studies have also linked asbestos in talcum powder to specific cases of mesothelioma. The use of these products causes people to inhale any contaminating asbestos fibers. Over time, this exposure may cause damage and illness in some.
FDA Tests Find Asbestos in Talcum Powder
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) found chrysotile asbestos in a sample from one lot of Johnson & Johnson Baby Powder in 2019. The company then voluntarily recalled all its talcum powder products and stopped selling them.
The FDA then tested recalled products for asbestos. The report, issued in 2020, showed that nine out of 43 tested samples contained measurable asbestos.
Did Johnson & Johnson Know About Asbestos in its Products?
Johnson & Johnson asbestos-contaminated talc has been proven, but it wasn’t always clear that the company knew about the risks.
The Link Between Ovarian Cancer and Talcum Powder
Johnson & Johnson continues to deny any wrongdoing related to talcum powder and cancer. However, documents have come to light in lawsuits that indicate the company knew about asbestos in talc.
Early Memos About Asbestos in Talc
The company’s knowledge about asbestos likely goes back even further. Beginning in 1971, tests of their talcum powder sometimes came up positive for asbestos.
Documents show executives knew there was a problem but failed to notify consumers of the risks. There is even evidence that the company tried to influence how the government regulated and researched talc safety.
Asbestos Tests on Prisoners
Evidence has also recently come to light that Johnson & Johnson funded research using prisoners in Pennsylvania in 1971. The study leader injected prisoners with asbestos to compare skin reactions to asbestos and talc.
The unethical research was uncovered years ago, but it was only recently discovered that Johnson & Johnson had something to do with it. The company clearly had questions about how asbestos could affect people.
Johnson & Johnson Talcum Powder Lawsuits
Talcum powder asbestos lawsuits have been instrumental in pushing Johnson & Johnson to release important documents. Although it continues to deny any liability, the company’s documents show it knew about asbestos. It has also faced down and paid out for thousands of lawsuits. These are just a few:
- $72 million for ovarian cancer and wrongful death. A jury awarded the family of Jackie Fox $72 million in 2016. Fox died from her cancer in 2015, and her son carried on the lawsuit she brought against Johnson & Johnson. Fox used Baby Powder daily for decades.
- $325 million for mesothelioma. A New York jury awarded $325 million to a couple for Donna Olson’s mesothelioma. She used Johnson & Johnson’s talcum powders for years.
- $4.7 billion for multiple cancer victims. Twenty-two women sued Johnson & Johnson and talc suppliers over their ovarian cancer. They all used Baby Powder products for years. A jury awarded the women nearly $5 billion, most of which are punitive damages against Johnson & Johnson. The company appealed and the Missouri Supreme Court reduced the amount to $2.1 billion. Johnson & Johnson then sought to have the verdict overturned, but the U.S. Supreme Court declined to take the case.
- $70 million for ovarian cancer. Deborah Giannecchini developed stage 4 ovarian cancer after using Baby Powder for many years. She sued Johnson & Johnson and other companies. A jury awarded her $70 million with Johnson & Johnson holding the majority of the liability.
- $117 million for pleural mesothelioma. While most cases have involved women and ovarian cancer, Stephen Lanzo developed mesothelioma after decades of Baby Powder use. He sued Johnson & Johnson and the companies that supplied talc.
- $21.7 million for mesothelioma. A Los Angeles jury awarded Joanne Anderson compensatory damages for developing mesothelioma after regular talcum powder use. The jury assigned 67% of the liability to Johnson & Johnson.
The company has denied all liability in these cases and continues to fight allegations of negligence. Johnson & Johnson has appealed many of the jury decisions, succeeding in getting some overturned. Despite this, the company continues to face thousands of lawsuits, potentially billions of dollars.
Facing thousands of more claims, Johnson & Johnson recently set aside $3.9 billion. The funds will be used to litigate these cases and to pay settlements.
Johnson & Johnson’s Bankruptcy Attempt
Many companies plagued by asbestos lawsuits have filed for bankruptcy and set up asbestos trust funds to compensate victims. Johnson & Johnson is currently in the bankruptcy process but has hit several roadblocks.
Johnson & Johnson is attempting an asbestos liability strategy others have used before known as ‘The Texas Two Step.’ The company spun off a subsidiary in Texas in 2021 called LTL Management. It then unloaded all of its asbestos liabilities on LTL so that the main company, J&J, could keep operating without that financial burden.
LTL then moved headquarters to North Carolina and filed for bankruptcy protection. Asbestos lawsuits are frozen during the bankruptcy process. Johnson & Johnson committed $2 billion to fund a trust if the bankruptcy goes through.
Asbestos victims and their advocates consider the ‘Texas’ maneuver to be underhanded and a way to cheat them out of the compensation they are due. They do not believe $2 billion is adequate or fair.
Asbestos claimants have taken Johnson & Johnson to court over it and so far have been successful. Most recently, Johnson & Johnson lost an appeal to overturn another court’s decision to halt the bankruptcy on behalf of claimants.
In the Appeals Court decision, the judge noted that J&J has more than $400 billion in equity, $31 billion in cash and other assets, and can afford to compensate victims fairly. Johnson & Johnson had declared its intention to appeal all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.
What if I Used Baby Powder?
If you have used baby powder regularly for years, it’s a good idea to talk to your doctor about cancer. Mesothelioma takes decades to show signs. Your doctor can recommend screening tests. If you already have symptoms or a diagnosis of cancer, consult with an asbestos lawyer.
Asbestos lawyers specialize in these types of cases. They can evaluate your situation, investigate how you were exposed to asbestos, and advise you on legal options. The situation with Johnson & Johnson is currently complicated and unsettled. You need a lawyer to provide the best advice for seeking compensation.Get Your FREE Mesothelioma Packet
Page Written by Mary Ellen Ellis
Mary Ellen Ellis has been the head writer for Mesothelioma.net since 2016. With hundreds of mesothelioma and asbestos articles to her credit, she is one of the most experienced writers on these topics. Her degrees and background in science and education help her explain complicated medical topics for a wider audience. Mary Ellen takes pride in providing her readers with the critical information they need following a diagnosis of an asbestos-related illness.
Page Edited by Patient Advocate Dave Foster
Dave has been a mesothelioma Patient Advocate for over 10 years. He consistently attends all major national and international mesothelioma meetings. In doing so, he is able to stay on top of the latest treatments, clinical trials, and research results. He also personally meets with mesothelioma patients and their families and connects them with the best medical specialists and legal representatives available.