Unable to silence patients who allege they were injured by baby powder manufactured by Johnson and Johnson, the pharmaceutical and healthcare products giant is removing its product from shelves in North America.
For decades, Johnson and Johnson has pushed back against lawsuits, environmental questions, and rumors about one of its best-known brand name products, Johnson & Johnson Baby Powder. For some, the allegations seem like a stretch. What kind of injury could baby powder cause?
Asbestos, Mesothelioma, and Talc
Once considered an industrial wonder around the world, asbestos has long been mined for use in industrial, household, and personal products. From wrapping for boilers to the glue holding down household linoleum, asbestos was fire-resistant, too.
A naturally-occurring mineral, asbestos was eventually discovered to cause severe and deadly illnesses including a rare fatal cancer, mesothelioma, and lung scarring known as asbestosis. The latency period for asbestos-related illness can be decades. Miners and industrial workers exposed to airborne asbestos when young might not show symptoms of disease for 30 years or more.
The danger of asbestos is contained in its needle-sharp shapes. Easily inhaled, the particles can lodge in the lungs and respiratory tract, where their sharp edges penetrate tissue and remain for years. Because the body cannot expel asbestos, it builds up scar tissue and triggers inflammation that can lead to cancer and slow suffocation as the lungs lose flexibility.
The Danger of Talc
Also naturally occurring and extracted by mining, talc deposits often contain asbestos minerals. Investigation and legal action has revealed Johnson and Johnson was aware that the mines from which it extracted talc for its baby powder were not “clean.”
There is no known “safe” exposure to asbestos. Banned outright in many countries, including those in the EU, asbestos continues to destroy lives in regions and countries, like the US, where asbestos remains legal for some uses.
Injury from a Baby Product
Marketed for use with babies and for personal hygiene, it would be impossible to know how much asbestos has been aerosolized, inhaled, and absorbed when sprinkled liberally upon the human body. In March of 2020, Johnson and Johnson was facing more than 19,000 lawsuits related to talc baby powders.
In June, an appeals court in Missouri lowered the award delivered through jury verdict to women who sued Johnson and Johnson alleging use of their baby powder caused ovarian cancer. The court lowered the verdict from $4.69 billion to $2.12 billion in a continuing loss for the company.
Just like asbestos litigation involving mining and industry, talc litigation will stretch long into the future. In the meantime, it appears Johnson and Johnson is attempting to cut its losses and appear to be a responsible corporate citizen by taking its embattled product off shelves in Canada and the US—while it continues to sell the same product to unsuspecting consumers elsewhere in the world.
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