In 2019, Johnson & Johnson is facing more than 11,000 lawsuits regarding their iconic baby powder. The litigants claim that lifetime use of the baby powder has led to contracting cancers such as ovarian cancer and the rare lung cancer mesothelioma. Additionally, the litigants claim the reason for the cancer is because the baby powder had been tainted by asbestos, which is linked to cancer. The claims, along with the lawsuits, have prompted an investigation by the U.S. Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission.
Reuters reports on a strategy that Johnson & Johnson developed in the 1970s to cover up the fact that their talc miners were getting cancer and lung disease at elevated rates.
The approach was summarized in a March 3, 1975 memo to the managers of the baby products division. This is the division that used the talc in their iconic Baby Powder.
“Our current posture with respect to the sponsorship of talc safety studies has been to initiate studies only as dictated by confrontation,” the memo said. “This philosophy, so far, has allowed us to neutralize or hold in check data already generated by investigators who question the safety of talc.”
The memo went on to say: “We minimize the risk of possible self-generation of scientific data which may be politically or scientifically embarrassing.”
A 1979 article published in the Journal of Environmental Pathology and Toxicology detailed the findings of a study which indicated that there were elevated risks of “respiratory cancer mortality” among talc miners. Another analysis of the data in 1988 determined at least one of the miners had died from mesothelioma, cancer closely associated with asbestos.
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