Johnson & Johnson’s stockholders defied pressure and voted against a proposal to halt global sales of baby powder with asbestos-containing talc over claims that use of the product causes cancer.
The proposal failed to receive a majority vote at Johnson & Johnson’s stockholder meeting on April 28.
Asbestos Lawsuits Against Johnson & Johnson
Johnson & Johnson is facing more than 34,000 lawsuits, many from women who claim that they used the company’s baby powder and developed ovarian cancer. The company removed the baby powder from store shelves in the United States and Canada in 2020.
Sales of baby powder had plummeted after government regulators detected carcinogenic chrysotile fibres, a type of asbestos, in a sample. Asbestos has been known to cause cancer, particularly in the lungs when inhaled.
What is Asbestos?
Asbestos describes six minerals that occur naturally in the environment as bundles of fibers that can be separated into thin threads for commercial and industrial uses. The fibers are resistant to heat, fire and chemicals and do not conduct electricity.
Asbestos has been used widely in many industries, such as building and construction for strengthening cement and plastics as well as for insulation, roofing, fireproofing, and sound absorption. The shipbuilding industry has used asbestos to insulate boilers, steam pipes, and hot water pipes. The automotive industry uses asbestos in vehicle brake shoes and clutch pads. Asbestos has also been used in ceiling and floor tiles, paints, coatings and adhesives, and plastics.
Did The United States Ban Asbestos?
In the late 1970s, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission banned the use of asbestos in wallboard patching compounds and gas fireplaces because the fibers could be released during use. In 1989, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency banned all new uses of asbestos. However, uses developed before 1989 are still allowed.
Does Talcum Contain Asbestos?
Talcum powder is made from talc, a mineral made up of magnesium, silicon and oxygen. It is the world’s softest mineral and mined in several countries. Talc naturally co-occurs with asbestos, so it is impossible to separate the two materials. As a powder, it absorbs moisture and helps reduce friction, making it useful for keeping skin dry and preventing rashes. It is widely used in cosmetic products such as baby powder and adult body and facial powders. It is also used in paper, plastics, and pharmaceuticals.
Concerns about a possible link between talcum powder and cancer have been focused on whether women who apply talcum powder regularly in the genital area have an increased risk of ovarian cancer, and whether people who have long-term exposure to talc particles at work, such as miners, are at a higher risk of lung cancer from breathing them in.
Johnson & Johnson has denied that its baby powder is harmful and said it pulled the product from store shelves in North America after a slump in sales “fueled by misinformation around the safety of the product.”
“We stand behind the ingredients we use in our products, and Johnson & Johnson has a rigorous testing standard in place to ensure our cosmetic talc is safe,” a company spokesperson told The Guardian. “Not only is our talc routinely tested to ensure it does not contain asbestos, but our talc has also been tested and confirmed to be asbestos-free by a range of independent laboratories, universities, and global health authorities.”
In June 2021, Johnson & Johnson lost its effort to overturn a Missouri jury verdict, which awarded $4.6 billion to 22 women. However, last fall, juries in Pennsylvania and Illinois refused to hold Johnson & Johnson accountable for ovarian cancer diagnoses of two women.
In October 2021, Johnson & Johnson moved the potential liabilities for talc products into a separate company, LTL Management, to hold and manage claims in the litigation. LTL Management immediately filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.
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