Johnson and Johnson – The Travesty Continues.


Those of you who are regular readers of HASAG articles and information will undoubtedly be aware of the fact that asbestos was commonly found as a contaminant of talc products. It was actually commonplace for the asbestos fibre count to amount to millions contained in a single container of talcum product such as, for example, the iconic Johnson’s Baby Powder.

The concentrations of this lethal mineral were certainly at a level where they caused a foreseeable risk of injury and that injury is the fatal malignant cancer, mesothelioma.

This led to a tranche of American product liability claims against Johnson and Johnson who were the leading worldwide producer of talc.

These claims were defended vigorously by Johnson and Johnson who denied that any of their talc products contained any asbestos. This was despite the fact that reports from a consulting lab dating back as long ago as 1957 and 1958 describe contaminants in talc  from Johnson and Johnson’s Italian supplier as fibrous “acicular”, or needle like tremolite. Tremolite is one of the 6 minerals that in their natural form are classified as asbestos. Even with a significant legal might brought to defend these claims by a company with extremely deep pockets – it is estimated that the defence legal fees have easily topped $1 billion – the claims started to be successful.

In light of these early defeats Johnson and Johnson, one of the richest companies in the world, created a company called LTL Management LLC, split its liabilities for talc from the assets of the main company and immediately filed for bankruptcy in light of the pending talcum claims.

This effectively put all talc litigation on hold in a cynical attempt to delay and to limit the claims and to save the company and its shareholders billions at the cost of their victims.

If that were not despicable enough, new information about Johnson and Johnson and asbestos has come to light only this month.

That revelation is that Johnson and Johnson funded studies on the effects of asbestos in their talc 50 years ago. They paid for a subsequently discredited dermatologist to inject asbestos and talc into inmates of a prison in Philadelphia so as to test the impact of this deadly mineral when it was a known contaminant of talc.

The dermatologist’s report to Johnson and Johnson indicated a finding of cells clumping due to inflammation. It was believed this was an indication of potential lung disease.

The knowledge of the risks of asbestos were well known and understood at the time of the prison tests and, in particular the risk of mesothelioma arising from miniscule doses of asbestos were well documented.

To quote from a judgement in a British case:

… I find that a reasonably informed employer would have been aware from at least 1949 that care should be taken with asbestos; that he would have known from the middle of the 1950s that exposure to asbestos should be kept to the lowest possible level; and that from 1965 he should have known that there was a new and uncertain hazard, in the shape of mesothelioma, that made reduction in exposure levels imperative.  

Johnson and Johnson knew of the harmful effects of asbestos but funded testing to better understand how the deadly mineral impacted upon human skin. This was carried out with callous disregard to both the inmates and the millions of Johnson and Johnson customers who bought and trusted their talcum products.

The importance of raising awareness of the presence of and the risks of asbestos is an important resolution of HASAG Asbestos Disease Support. It is only through working with our colleagues and associates and friends that this goal can be achieved and contemptuous and unremitting exposers can be brought to justice and have their transgressions and crimes conveyed to the public, to the judiciary and to the politicians who can force action to be taken and justice to be done.