Johnson & Johnson subpoenaed about baby powder cancer claims

J&J says it received subpoenas over litigation involving alleged asbestos contamination of its Baby Powder.

    Bottles of Johnson & Johnson Baby Powder line a chemist shelf in New York [File: Lucas Jackson/Reuters]
    Bottles of Johnson & Johnson Baby Powder line a chemist shelf in New York [File: Lucas Jackson/Reuters]

    The US Department of Justice, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and a senator have launched an investigation into drugmaker giant Johnson & Johnson (J&J), the company disclosed on Wednesday.

    In its SEC filing, J&J wrote it received subpoenas from a number of federal agencies in the United States following its failure to disclose alleged asbestos contamination in body powders, including their talc-based Baby Powder, and were asked to produce documents on the matter.

    "The Company has received preliminary inquiries and subpoenas to produce documents regarding these matters from Senator Murray, a member of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, the Department of Justice and the Securities and Exchange Commission," J&J said in its filing.

    J&J said it was cooperating with the government inquiries and will be producing documents in response.

    The company reported it was involved in "numerous" product liability claims and lawsuits involving a number of its products. It said claimants are seeking "substantial" compensation.

    "Personal injury claims alleging that talc causes cancer have been made against Johnson & Johnson Consumer Inc and Johnson & Johnson arising out of the use of body powders containing talc, primarily Johnson's Baby Powder," the company said on Wednesday.

    "The number of pending product liability lawsuits continues to increase, and the Company continues to receive information with respect to potential costs and the anticipated number of cases," it added. 

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    Lawsuits have been primarily filed in state courts in Missouri, New Jersey and California, the company said.

    Baby Powder cancer cases

    There have more than 10,000 cases that claim J&J's Baby Powder and Shower to Shower products cause ovarian cancer.

    In an effort to boost sales, the company is believed to have failed for decades to warn consumers that its talc-based products could cause cancer.

    The products have also been linked with mesothelioma, a rare and deadly form of cancer that affects the delicate tissue that lines body cavities.

    In 2016, A Missouri state jury ordered J&J to pay $72m in damages to the family of a woman whose death from ovarian cancer was linked to her use of the company's Baby Powder and Shower to Shower feminine hygiene product for several decades.

    A year later, in 2017, a US jury ordered J&J to pay $417m to a woman who claimed she developed terminal ovarian cancer after using the company's talc-based products.

    A Reuters investigation last year found that J&J had known about the presence of small amounts of asbestos in its products from as early as 1971. Reuters examined company memos, internal reports and other confidential documents.

    The report also said the company had commissioned and paid for studies conducted on its Baby Powder franchise and hired a ghostwriter to redraft the article that presented the findings in a journal. 

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    On Wednesday, J&J said lawsuits have led to financial losses for the company. 

    Following the SEC filing on Wednesday disclosing the federal subpoenas, J&J shares fell 1.2 percent.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies