Johnson & Johnson, not asked to testify on talc, alleges Congressional hearing was biased against it

By John Breslin | Mar 14, 2019

WASHINGTON (Legal Newsline) – Johnson & Johnson, a company facing enormous liability concerns stemming from thousands of lawsuits that claim there is cancer-causing asbestos in its products, believes a Democrat-led House hearing on the alleged dangers of talc and consumer products was biased against it.

The company said it was not asked to testify before the House Subcommittee on Economic and Consumer Policy during Wednesday's hearing. Those who were allowed to testify included a plaintiff in a massive talc verdict in St. Louis and an activist group said to have ties to plaintiffs lawyers.

But the subcommittee chairman Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Illinois), in an opening statement at the hearing Tuesday, said his staff "discussed the company’s detection methods, manufacturing and mining processes, and their health risk data with senior Johnson & Johnson officials who also provided a letter which was entered into the record."

A senior Democratic aide told Legal Newsline: "As the subcommittee continues to gather facts, we intend to give Johnson & Johnson an opportunity to fully speak to the issues we heard today."

The committee, in its report of the meeting, said there was bipartisan concern about asbestos contamination of personal care products containing talc.  

"The Food and Drug Administration has the authority to require warning labels for potentially hazardous products, but the agency has not used that authority to warn consumers of the potential dangers of asbestos-contaminated talc," according to the hearing recap.

In a statement, Johnson and Johnson stated that "nothing is more important to us than the safety of consumers and maintaining their trust in our products."

The statement to Legal Newsline continued, "We have long supported legislation to modernize the U.S. FDA’s regulatory authority over cosmetics and personal care products and believe this reform is essential to enabling the agency to increase their ability to protect the public.

"We are committed to continuing to work with Congress and the FDA to advance meaningful change."

But the company added that the testimony delivered at the hearing Tuesday "was biased with a majority of witnesses being connected to litigation against our company."

It added: "Decades of studies concluding that Johnson’s baby powder is free of asbestos and safe to use were not discussed, and the subcommittee did not hear the preponderance of evidence that supports the safety of our product."

In its report, the subcommittee said it will "inquire further about the safety of talc and evaluate steps other countries have taken to prevent cancer caused by personal care products. Canada recently issued a warning that the use of talc for genital hygiene leads to a greater risk of ovarian cancer."

Three witnesses - an epidemiologist, a representative of an activist group, and the son of a woman awarded $72 million by a Missouri jury - provided testimony to the committee.

Dr. Anne McTiernan, an epidemiologist attached to the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, Washington, focuses her research on cancer and prevention, particularly among women.

She told the committee: "Summarizing data from all of the published studies consistently shows that women who had ever used talcum powder products in the genital area had a statistically significant 22 to 31 percent increased risk of developing epithelial ovarian cancer compared with women who had never used them."

McTiernan added, "Evidence suggests that these associations hold across diverse race and ethnic groups. These combined analyses showed that increasing amount of exposure to talcum powder products in the genital area resulted in increasing risk of developing epithelial ovarian cancer."

Scott Faber, vice president of government affairs for the Environmental Working Group, an activist organization, told the committee that "chemicals and contaminants linked to cancer can be found in food, water and many other everyday products.

"However, no category of consumer products is subject to less government oversight than cosmetics and other personal care products," he added. "Although many of the chemicals and contaminants in cosmetics likely pose little risk, exposure to some chemicals and contaminants used in cosmetics and other personal care products has been linked to serious health problems, including cancer."

Faber's group has its critics. The Competitive Enterprise Institute has said EWG relies on "junk science" to further the goals of trial lawyers who sue large companies.

Marvin Salter, whose mother, Jacqueline Fox Salter, died in October 2015, from ovarian cancer, also delivered testimony to the committee. The family was awarded $72 million by a jury that found Johnson and Johnson liable for not issuing warnings about the product.

"I sincerely believe Johnson & Johnson’s baby powder took my mother’s life," Salter said. "We believed in the company and in that product specifically."

He added, "We never realized that what we were using could possibly be harmful. Had we known then what we know now, we never would have brought it into our house."

Earlier this week, J&J was ordered to pay close to $29 million to a California woman who claimed her mesothelioma was caused by asbestos-tainted talc. Jurors found there was a link but also noted that the company issued no warnings about the product.

A similar trial is ongoing in New Jersey, where verdicts have reached eight and nine figures.

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Organizations in this Story

Competitive Enterprise Institute Environmental Working Group Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center Johnson & Johnson U.S. House of Representatives United States House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform

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