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J&J reportedly knew about asbestos in baby powder for decades, shares drop 6%

Johnson & Johnson shares tumbled on a Reuters report that the company knew its talcum baby powder contained asbestos. 
In this photo illustration, a container of Johnson's baby powder made by Johnson and Johnson sits on a table on July 13, 2018 in San Francisco, California.

Justin Sullivan | Getty Images

In this photo illustration, a container of Johnson's baby powder made by Johnson and Johnson sits on a table on July 13, 2018 in San Francisco, California.

Johnson & Johnson reportedly knew its talcum baby powder contained asbestos for decades, Reuters saidin a report that drove the company's shares down by more than 6 percent Friday.

Reuters reviewed documents and deposition and trial testimony the news outlet said showed from 1971 to the early 2000s, J&J company executives, mine managers, doctors and lawyers were aware the company's raw talc and finished powders sometimes tested positive for small amounts of asbestos. Those involved discussed the problem but they did not disclose it to regulators or the public, Reuters' examination found.

"Plaintiffs' attorneys out for personal financial gain are distorting historical documents and intentionally creating confusion in the courtroom and in the media," Ernie Knewitz, J&J's vice president of global media relations, told Reuters in an email. "This is all a calculated attempt to distract from the fact that thousands of independent tests prove our talc does not contain asbestos or cause cancer. Any suggestion that Johnson & Johnson knew or hid information about the safety of talc is false."

J&J referred Reuters to its outside lawyers, who rejected Reuters' findings as "false and misleading."

"The scientific consensus is that the talc used in talc-based body powders does not cause cancer, regardless of what is in that talc," Peter Bicks told Reuters in an email. "This is true even if — and it does not — Johnson & Johnson's cosmetic talc had ever contained minute, undetectable amounts of asbestos." He dismissed the tests cited in Reuter's article as "outlier" results, Reuters said.

The company has faced a wave of lawsuits alleging its talc baby powder products contain asbestos and caused ovarian and other cancers. Some juries have sided with J&J and others have been unable to reach verdicts. A Missouri jury in July ordered J&J to pay $4.9 billion in a case involving 22 women and their families. A judge affirmed the verdict in August and J&J vowed to appeal it.

J&J has filed thousands of documents in court proceedings, though most have been designated as confidential.

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