Johnson & Johnson’s asbestos woes continue

The US Justice Department will be investigating claims that the healthcare giant sold asbestos contaminated talc

After a litany of court cases from cancer sufferers in recent years, with inconsistent outcomes, Johnson & Johnson is being investigated by the US Justice Department and the Securities and Exchanges Commission. The organisations are looking into whether the company’s talc product was or is contaminated with asbestos, causing mesothelioma cancers.

The American company revealed the news in a regulatory filing on 20 February, stating that two US agencies have requested documents relating to the allegations.

The official statement by the company in this new filing declared: "The company is cooperating with these government inquiries and will be producing documents in response."

Another governmental investigation, by the FDA, found no asbestos in any J&J talc products during a study that took place between 2009-2010.

The controversy

The long-standing mystery has surrounded the company for decades. Reuters reported that the earliest mentions of tainted J&J talc they could find came from 1957 and 1958 reports by a consulting lab. In many separate cases over the years local juries have ruled for and against the healthcare giant.

Last year a jury awarded 22 women US$4.7 billion in damages after they claimed that asbestos in J&J’s talcum powder had caused them to develop cancer.

At the same time, at least three juries have rejected claims that the powder was tainted with asbestos or caused plaintiffs’ mesothelioma. Others have failed to reach verdicts, resulting in mistrials.

J&J has said it will appeal the recent verdicts made against it. It has maintained in public statements that its talc is safe, claiming it has been shown as such for years by the best tests available. It has blamed its losses on juror confusion, “junk” science, unfair court rules and overzealous lawyers looking for a fresh pool of asbestos plaintiffs.

With so much confusion over the legitimacy of the claims, and the recent resurgence in occurrences, it seems the government has decided now is time to intervene.

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