Nearly 20 years ago, Darlene Coker sued Johnson & Johnson. She had been diagnosed with mesothelioma, a rare but deadly form of cancer that is caused by asbestos exposure. How could the 52-year-old who ran a massage school in eastern Texas while raising two daughters develop the disease? It must have been the Johnson’s Baby Powder she regularly dusted on her children and herself.
Talc, like asbestos, is mined from the earth. To her and her attorney, it wasn’t too far a leap to suggest J&J’s talc-containing product could have contained asbestos and caused her deadly disease.
Coker sought to have J&J hand over the results of tests on its talc. Without the burden of proof, Coker had no case. She could have only imaged that would be the end of the story.
Fast forward nearly two decades, and several lawsuits alleging that J&J’s talcum powder products contain asbestos have been filed. As a result, J&J has been compelled to produce thousands of internal memos and reports, information like how the consumer health care giant never told federal authorities that at least three tests by three separate labs from 1972 to 1975 identified asbestos in its talc, in some cases at “rather high” amounts, according to a Reuters report published Dec. 14.
According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), no amount of exposure to asbestos is safe. Within 10 to 50 years, mesothelioma can develop. It typically kills within one or two years after symptoms begin to present. Coker beat the odds, living a dozen years with the disease, dying in 2009. Samples taken from her lungs showed microscopic asbestos fibers in her lung tissue. But she never learned for sure what caused her disease.
Coker’s former attorney, however, has heard about the recent evidence J&J tried hard to keep from public view. He says had the information about asbestos in J&J’s talc come out earlier, “maybe there would have been 20 years less exposure,” according to Reuters.
Those documents have shed new light on the company’s once highly trusted talc-containing products like Johnson’s Baby Powder and Shower to Shower body powder. J&J faces more than 11,000 lawsuits alleging its asbestos-tainted talcum powders have contributed to mesothelioma diagnoses, as well as ovarian cancer diagnoses.