Johnson & Johnson was hit by subpoenas from the Department of Justice and the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) regarding safety concerns with its talcum powders. The consumer health care giant says it plans to comply with the subpoenas, which were revealed in an annual report filed with the SEC, as well as with Sen. Patty Murry’s request last month that it produce documents related to whether its talcum powders, including its signature Johnson’s Baby Powder, contain cancer-causing asbestos.
The requests for information come after a December Reuters investigation that revealed internal documents showed the company was aware for decades that the talc it used in some of its products contained asbestos, yet the company never informed regulators or the public.
Asbestos exposure can cause serious illnesses including the incurable lung disease asbestosis, lung cancer, and mesothelioma, a rare form of cancer that develops in the lining of the lungs. These diseases can take up to five decades to develop. Once diagnosed, mesothelioma, in particular, can prove fatal within a year or two.
Johnson & Johnson faces more than 12,000 lawsuits alleging its talc-containing products can cause cancer, specifically ovarian cancer when applied to the genitals for feminine hygiene, and mesothelioma, when inhaled. Most of the lawsuits name asbestos contamination as the culprit. Johnson & Johnson has repeatedly denied the allegations and continues to claim its talcum powders are safe.
Johnson & Johnson’s talc supplier, Imerys Talc America, filed for bankruptcy last week citing mountain lawsuits over asbestos claims.