Johnson & Johnson Faces Criminal Probe Over Talc-Asbestos Link

As civil claims and regulatory actions against pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson continue to pick up steam, a federal grand jury may turn up the heat even more.

A Waxhington, D.C. grand jury is investigating allegations that J&J knew its talcum powder was laced with asbestos, but did nothing about the problem. Company officials admit that the Department of Justice has subpoenaed documents, and these officials insist that the company is “fully cooperating” with the probe. Publically, Johnson & Johnson has always steadfastly denied that its talcum powder was dangerous.

However, in several internal memos that have come to light in the civil lawsuits, company scientists stated that J&J talcum powder, as it was being sold, could be a “serious health hazard.” These memos date back as far as the 1960s. The Department of Justice, Securities and Exchange Commission, and the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions have all requested documents.

Nationwide, J&J faces about 14,000 talcum powder-asbestos lawsuits. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is also looking into the talcum powder safety issues.

How Did Asbestos End Up in Talcum Powder?

Talcum powder is made from talc, which is one of the softest minerals on earth. Talc also absorbs moisture off of surfaces without overly drying those surface. So, talc is a common ingredient not only in talcum powder but in other cosmetic products as well, like makeup.

Asbestos is a naturally-occuring mineral as well. For many years, builders used asbestos in construction and shipbuilding projects as a fireproof insulator. Then, researchers discovered asbestos’ significant cancer-causing qualities. More on that below. As a result, asbestos use has declined significantly in the United States.

However, asbestos is still imported and used in many products. Moreover, workers who renovate or demolish old buildings often risk asbestos exposure.

Now for the link between the two. In the ground, asbestos and talc are often found in the exact same mines. Whereas talc is solid, asbestos is a highly fibrous material. So, cross-contamination is not surprising. That’s especially true if a company does not properly oversee the mining, manufacturing, production, and distribution process.

Asbestos Injuries

Mesothelioma

Mesothelioma is the most common asbestos-related illness. These rare and aggressive malignant tumors form in the delicate meso lining that separates the heart and lungs. That location makes mesothelioma difficult to treat. Even highly-targeted radiation and/or chemotherapy treatments often affect the heart and lungs. Additionally, these tumors are difficult or impossible to surgically remove.

Complicating matters even further, mesothelioma misdiagnosis is common. The latency period is usually about forty years. So, when symptoms appear, doctors rarely connect them with asbestos exposure. Moreover, most mesothelioma symptoms, like chest tightness and breathing problems, mimic the symptoms of more common conditions, like Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer (NSCLC) and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD).

So, by the time doctors properly diagnose mesothelioma, the disease is usually in an advanced stage and even more difficult to treat.

Ovarian Cancer

Tiny asbestos fibers may cause cancer elsewhere as well, particularly in the ovaries of women who use talcum powder. The microscopic fibers move up the fallopian tubes and infect the women’s reproductive organs.  Some studies have suggested that the regular use of talc powder by woman may increase the risk of developing ovarian cancer by up to 30%.

More Information

If you have been diagnosed with mesothelioma due to inhalation of asbestos or ovarian cancer following regular use of talcum powder, you may have legal recourse.  To learn more about your rights, contact Simmons & Fletcher, P.C.

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Paul Cannon

Paul Cannon has practiced personal injury trial law since 1995. He is Board Certified in Personal Injury Trial Law (2005). He has earned recognition as a Super Lawyer by Thompson Reuters in 2017 & 2018, and as a Top 100 Trial Lawyer by the National Trial Lawyers Association in 2017. He is a Shareholder, trial lawyer and online marketing manager at Simmons and Fletcher, P.C. His legal writings have been published by the Texas Bar Journal, Business.com, Lawyer.com HG Legal Resources, Lawfirms.com, and others. He has been asked to give education talks and media interviews on dog bite law.