Report Alleges Johnson & Johnson Withheld Information About Trace Amounts of Asbestos in Baby Powder for Decades

Shares dropped 10 percent in the wake of Reuters' analysis

A new report suggests Johnson & Johnson knew about harmful ingredients in products for decades. Getty Images
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A report today released by Reuters suggests that Johnson & Johnson knew about trace amounts of asbestos in its baby powder product as early as 1971. In the wake of this report, J&J shares dropped 10 percent since this morning.

Reuters analyzed company memos, confidential documents and other internal documents and found that from 1971 up until the early 2000s, the company was well aware that some of its raw talc and finished powder products contained trace amounts of asbestos, but the company never disclosed that information to consumers. According to Reuters’ report, “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.”

Johnson & Johnson did not immediately respond to Adweek’s request for comment. In a statement to Reuters in response to its report, J&J’s vp of global media relations, Ernie Knewitz, said, “Plaintiffs’ attorneys out for personal financial gain are distorting historical documents and intentionally creating confusion in the courtroom and in the media. 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.”

To backtrack, Johnson & Johnson has been dealing with a number of lawsuits in the past that claim Johnson & Johnson Baby Powder and Shower to Shower products caused ovarian cancer, and in some cases, death. Today, there are roughly 11,700 plaintiffs stating that the CPG behemoth’s products caused their cancers, according to Reuters.

A number of cases that went to trial favored the plaintiff. According to law firm Beasley Allen, which has represented a number of these cases against J&J, in four recent trials, juries sided with the plaintiff and awarded damages totaling over $307 million.

Throughout these allegations, J&J has maintained that its products are and have been safe to use.

A spokeswoman from the company told Adweek in 2016 that “the scientific evidence has never supported the addition of a warning label regarding the risk of ovarian cancer to cosmetic talc products. As recently as 2014, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration reinforced the conclusion that such warning labels are not warranted on cosmetic talc products.”

“We believe in the safety of cosmetic talc, which is why we continue to market Johnson’s Baby Powder,” the spokeswoman added in her statement in 2016.

Read Reuters full report here for a more in-depth look at the history of these allegations.

@ktjrichards Katie Richards is a staff writer for Adweek.