LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Darlene Coker knew he was dying. He just wanted to know why.
Darlene Coker is shown on a kitchen table full of many personal images of her family life in California, USA August 15, 2018. Photo taken August 15, 2018. REUTERS / Mike Blake
He knew that his cancer, mesothelioma, had arisen in the delicate membrane that surrounded his lungs and other organs. He knew it was as rare as mortal, a signing of the asbestos exposure. And he knew that he especially afflicted men who inhaled asbestos dust in mines and industries such as shipbuilding that used the carcinogen before its risks were understood.
Coker, 52, had raised two daughters and ran a massage school in Lumberton, a small town in eastern Texas. How was exposed to asbestos? "He wanted answers," said his daughter Cady Evans.
Fighting for every breath and a paralyzing pain, Coker hired Herschel Hobson, a personal injury lawyer. He arrived aboard a suspect: the Johnson & # 39; s Baby Powder that Coker had used for his newborn babies and sprayed on itself for life. Hobson knew that talc and asbestos often occurred together in the earth, and that the extracted talc could be contaminated with the carcinogen. Coker sued Johnson & Johnson, claiming that the "poisonous talc" in the company's beloved product was its killer.
J & J denied the request. Baby Powder was asbestos-free, he said. As it progressed, J & J was able to avoid delivering talc test results and other company internal documents that Hobson had requested to report to Baby Powder.
Coker had no choice but to abandon his cause, Hobson said. "When you're the plaintiff, you have the burden of proof," he said. "We do not have it."
This happened in 1999. Two years later, the material sought by Coker and his lawyer is emerging, as J & J has been forced to share thousands of pages of corporate notes, internal reports and other confidential documents with lawyers for some of the 11,700 plaintiffs. . the company's talcum has caused their cancer – including thousands of women with ovarian cancer.
A review of Reuters on many of these documents, as well as testimony about depositions and trials, shows that from 1971 to the early 2000s, the raw talc and finished powders of the company were sometimes positive for small amounts of asbestos, and that executives of the company, my managers, scientists, doctors and lawyers have worked for the problem and how to deal with it without revealing it to regulators or the public.
The documents also describe efforts to influence US regulatory agencies' plans to limit asbestos in cosmetic talcum products and scientific research into the health effects of talc.
A small part of the documents was produced during the trial and quoted in the media reports. Many were protected from public opinion by court orders that allowed J & J to deliver thousands of documents he had designated as confidential. Much of their content is reported here for the first time.
The first mention of the contaminated J & J talc that Reuters found came from a consulting laboratory of 1957 and 1958. They describe the contaminants in talc of the Italian supplier of J & J as fibrous and "acicular" or needle-like tremolite. This is one of the six minerals that in their natural fibrous form are classified as asbestos.
At different times since then in the early 2000s, reports from J & J scientists, external labs and J & J's supplier have produced similar results. Reports identify contaminants in talc and finished powder products such as asbestos or describe them in terms typically applied to asbestos, such as "fiberform" and "rods".
In 1976, when the American Food and Drug Administration (FDA) was pondering asbestos limits in cosmetic talc products, J & J assured the regulator that no asbestos was "detected in any sample" of talc produced between December 1972 and October 1973. It did not work I say to the agency that at least three tests from three different laboratories from 1972 to 1975 have found asbestos in its talc – in one case at levels reported as "quite high".
Most of J & J Reuters' internal asbestos test reports did not find asbestos. However, while J & J's test methods have improved over time, they have always had limitations that allow trace contaminants to go unnoticed – and only a small portion of the company's talc is tested.
The World Health Organization and other authorities do not recognize any safe level of exposure to asbestos. While most of the exposed people never develop cancer, for some even small amounts of asbestos are enough to trigger the disease years later. How small it has not been established. Many plaintiffs claim that the amounts they inhaled when they powdered talcum powder were enough.
Evidence of what J & J knew emerged after people who suspected that talc caused cancer, would hire experienced lawyers in the rampant decade of litigation involving workers exposed to asbestos. Some lawyers knew from previous cases that the talc producers tested the asbestos and began to request the J & J test documentation.
What J & J produced in response to these requests allowed plaintiffs' lawyers to refine their argument: the culprit was not necessarily the talc itself, but also the asbestos in the talc. This statement, backed by decades of solid science that shows that asbestos causes mesothelioma and is associated with ovarian and other cancers, has had mixed success in court.
In two cases at the beginning of this year, in New Jersey and California, the juries have awarded substantial sums to plaintiffs who, like Coker, have accused their talc products of J & J talcum powder for their mesothelioma.
A third verdict, in St. Louis, was a watershed, extending the potential responsibility of J & J: The 22 plaintiffs were the first to succeed with the claim that the talc Baby Powder and Shower to Shower, a brand of Long date sold by the company in 2012, has caused ovarian cancer, which is much more common than mesothelioma. The jury awarded them $ 4.69 billion in damages. Most cases of talc were carried by women with ovarian cancer who claim to have regularly used J & J talc products as antiperspirants and perineal deodorants.
At the same time, at least three juries rejected claims that Baby Powder was tainted by asbestos or caused the plaintiffs' mesothelioma. Others failed to reach the verdicts, resulting in a mistrial.
J & J said it will appeal against recent verdicts against it. He has publicly stated that his talc is safe, as proven for years by the best available tests, and that the information that was required to disclose in recent litigation demonstrates the care that the company takes to ensure that its products are deprived of of asbestos. He accused his losses of confusion of jurors, "junk" science, unfair court rules and overzealous lawyers looking for a new pool of asbestos plaintiffs.
Plaintiffs' lawyers for personal financial gains distort historical documents and intentionally create confusion in the courtroom and in the media, "wrote Ernie Knewitz, J & J vice president of global media relations, in an emailed response. to the results of Reuters. "This is all a calculated attempt to distract from the fact that thousands of independent tests show that our talc does not contain asbestos or cause cancer. Any suggestion that Johnson & Johnson knew or concealed information about the safety of talc is false. "
J & J declined to comment further for this article. For more than two months, he rejected repeated requests for an interview with J & J executives. On December 8, the company offered to make an expert available. He had not done it Thursday evening.
The company has returned all claims to its external lawyer, Peter Bicks. In replies sent by e-mail, Bicks rejected Reuters's claims as "false and misleading". "The scientific consensus is that talcum powder used in talcum powders does not cause cancer, regardless of what there is in that talc," Bicks wrote. "This is true even if – and it is not – the cosmetic talc from Johnson & Johnson had never contained minimum and undetectable amounts of asbestos." He rejected the tests cited in this article as "abnormal" results.
In court, J & J's lawyers told jurors that company records show that asbestos was detected in its talc related to talcum for industrial use. Other documents, they claimed, referred to non-asbestos forms of the same minerals that their experts say are harmless. J & J also claimed that some tests have collected asbestos "background" – stray fibers that may have contaminated samples after being passed into a mill or workshop by a vehicle clutch or frayed insulation.
The company has made some of the same arguments about laboratory tests conducted by experts recruited by plaintiffs. According to a study of August 11, 2017, one of those laboratories discovered asbestos in the Shower to Shower talc of the years 90. Another laboratory found asbestos in more than half of the multiple Baby Powder samples of the last decades – in bottles from the actors' closets and bought by eBay, and even a 1978 bottle held in the J & J company museum. large enough that users "would, more likely not, have been exposed", concluded the report of the plaintiff's laboratory presented in several cases this year.
Matthew Sanchez, geologist with RJ Lee Group Inc consultants and an experienced witness to J & J, rejected these findings in a testimony of the St. Louis trial: "I did not find asbestos in any of the current or modern, what I consider modern, Johnson & Johnson talcum products, "Sanchez told the jury.
Sanchez did not answer calls to get a comment. RJ Lee said he does not comment on the work he does for customers.
Since 2003, talcum powder for children sold in the United States has come from China through the supplier Imerys Talc America, a unit of Imerys SA based in Paris and a co-defendant in most of the talc controversies. Imerys and J & J have said that Chinese talc is safe. A spokesperson for Imerys said that the company's tests "do not constantly show asbestos." The safe use of Talc has been confirmed by multiple regulatory and scientific bodies. "
J & J, headquartered in New Brunswick, New Jersey, has dominated the talcum powder market for over 100 years, and its sales exceed those of all competitors put together, according to data from Euromonitor International. And while talc products contributed just $ 420 million to last year's J & J $ 76.5 billion revenue, Baby Powder is considered an essential aspect of the image of the health product manufacturer as a company of care – a "sacred cow" as an internal email of 2003 putting it.
"When people really understand what's going on, I think it increases J & J's exposure thousands of times," said Mark Lanier, one of the lawyers for women in the case of St. Louis.
The growing controversy surrounding J & J talc has not shaken investors. The share price has increased by around 6 percent this year. Talc cases account for less than 10% of all cases of personal injury in progress against J & J, based on the company's quarterly report of 2 August, in which the company claimed to believe it had "strong grounds for appeal".
The president and CEO of J & J, Alex Gorsky, pledged to fight, telling analysts in July: "We remain confident that our products do not contain asbestos."
Gorsky's comment, echoed in countless statements by J & J, lacks a crucial point. Asbestos, like many environmental carcinogens, has a long latency period. The diagnosis usually arrives years after the initial exposure – 20 years or more for mesothelioma. Today J & J talc products can be safe, but the talc in question in thousands of lawsuits has been sold and used in the last 60 years.
"THE FIRST SECURITY"
In 1886, Robert Wood Johnson enlisted his younger brothers in an identical startup built around the motto "Safety First". Johnson's Baby powder was born from a row of medicated plasters, sticky rubber strips loaded with mustard and other home remedies. When customers complained of skin irritation, the siblings sent talc packets.
Soon, mothers began to apply talc to irritated skin from babies' diapers. The Johnsons took note. They added a fragrance that became one of the most recognizable in the world, sieved the talc in tin boxes and, in 1893, began to sell it as a powder for newborns of Johnson.
In the late 1950s, J & J discovered that the talc from its main mining source for the US market in the Italian Alps contained tremolite. It is one of the six minerals – along with chrysotile, actinolite, amosite, anthophyllite and crocidolite – that are found in nature as crystalline fibers known as asbestos, a recognized carcinogen. Some of them, including tremolite, also appear as insignificant "non-asbestos" rocks. Both forms often occur together and in talc deposits.
At the time, J & J's concern was that the contaminants would make the company's abrasive powder. He has sent tons of Italian talc in a private laboratory in Columbus, Ohio, to find ways to improve the appearance, the touch and the purity of the powder, removing the "grain" as much as possible. In a couple of reports of 1957 and 1958, the laboratory stated that the talc contained "from less than 1% to about 3% of the contaminants", described as a mostly fibrous and "acicular" tremolite.
Most of the authors of these and other J & J documents mentioned in this article are dead. Sanchez, the geologist of RJ Lee whose company has agreed to provide him with a witness in 100 J & J talc processes, testified that the tremolite found decades ago in the company talc, from Italy and later from Vermont , it was not at all a flicker of asbestos. Rather, he said, they were "cleavage fragments" from non-asbestiform tremolites.
The original J & J documents do not always make this distinction. In terms of health risk, regulators since the early 1970s have treated the small fiber-shaped particles of both forms in the same way.
The US Environmental Protection Agency, for example, "makes no distinction between fibers and fragments (comparable) of splitting," agency officials wrote in response to a report by RJ Lee on a unrelated topic in 2006, the year before the company hired Sanchez. The OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration), although it has eliminated the non-fibrous forms of minerals from its definition of asbestos in 1992, nevertheless recommends that fiber-like fragments indistinguishable from asbestos be counted in exposure.
And as the director of product safety for the talc supplier of J & J acknowledged in a 2008 email to colleagues: "(I) if a deposit contains non-asbestiform tremolite, naturally the asbestiform tremolite is also present."
In 1964, the J & J & # 39; s Windsor Minerals Inc subsidiary bought a group of talc mines in Vermont, with names like Argonaut, Rainbow, Frostbite and Black Bear. In 1966, the white boulder was demolished and demolished by the state of Green Mountain. J & J used the ground powder in its cosmetic powders and sold a less refined grade to roofing, flooring and tire manufacturing companies for use in production.
Ten years after the tremolite found in the Italian talc, it was also presented in the talcum of Vermont. In 1967, J & J found traces of tremolite and another mineral that could present as asbestos, according to a table attached to November 1, 1967, memo to William Ashton, the executive responsible for the supply of talc from J & J for decades.
J & J continued to look for sources of clean talcum. But in an April 9, 1969, the note from a company doctor, Ashton said it was "normal" to find tremolite in many talc deposits in the United States. He suggested that J & J rethink his approach. "Historically, in our company, Tremolite has been bad," wrote Ashton. "How severe is the Tremolite from a medical point of view and how safe can it be in a talcum base that we could develop?"
Since lung disease, including cancer, seemed to be on the rise, "it would seem prudent to limit any possible Tremolite content … to an absolute minimum," came another doctor's response a few days later.
The doctor told Ashton that J & J was receiving security questions from pediatricians. Even Robert Wood Johnson II, the son of the retired founder and CEO, had expressed "concern about the possibility of adverse effects on the lungs of newborns or mothers," he wrote.
"We have answered", wrote the doctor, "that we would not consider the use of our powders dangerous". These assurances would be impossible, he added, "if we include tremolite in more than an inevitable amount of traces".
The memo is the first J & J document reviewed by Reuters that discusses tremolite as more than an annoying nuisance. The doctor invited Ashton to consult with the company's lawyers because "it is not inconceivable that we could be involved in litigation".
NEVER "100% CLEAN"
In the early '70s, asbestos was widely recognized as the main cause of mesothelioma among the workers involved in its production and in the industries that used it in their products.
The regulation was in the air. In 1972, the newly created OSHA by President Richard Nixon issued his first rule, setting limits on workplace exposure to asbestos dust.
At that point, a team from Mount Sinai Medical Center led by an eminent asbestos researcher, Irving Selikoff, had begun to consider talcum powder as a possible solution to an enigma: why pulmonary tissue tests were post-mortem by New Yorkers who had they never worked with asbestos to find signs of the mineral? Because talc deposits are often related to asbestos, scientists reasoned, perhaps talc powders played a role.
They shared their preliminary findings with New York's head of environmental protection, Jerome Kretchmer. On June 29, 1971, Kretchmer informed the Nixon administration and convened a press conference to announce that two unidentified brands of cosmetic talc seemed to contain asbestos.
The FDA has opened an investigation. J & J issued a statement: "Our fifty years of research knowledge in this area indicate that there is no asbestos contained in the powder produced by Johnson & Johnson."
Later that year, another Mount Sinai researcher, the mineralist Arthur Langer, told J & J in a letter that the team had found a "relatively small" amount of chrysotile asbestos in Baby Powder.
Langer, Selikoff and Kretchmer ended up in a J & J list of "antagonistic personalities" in a memorandum of November 29, 1972, which described Selikoff as the head of a "talc attack".
"I suppose I'm an antagonist," Langer told Reuters. Despite this, in a subsequent J & J powder test in 1976, he did not find asbestos – a result announced by Mount Sinai.
Langer said he had told the J & J lawyers that they visited him last year to be aware of all his findings. J & J did not call him as a witness.
Selikoff died in 1992. Kretchmer said he had recently read that a jury had concluded that Baby Powder was tainted by asbestos. "I said to myself," How come it took so long? "He said.
In July 1971, in the meantime, J & J sent a delegation of scientists to Washington to talk with FDA officials who examined asbestos in talcum powders. According to an account of the FDA meeting, J & J shared "the evidence that their talc contains less than 1%, if anything, of asbestos".
Later that month, Wilson Nashed, one of the J & J scientists who visited the FDA, said in a memo to the company's public relations department that J & J's talc contained traces of "fibrous minerals (tremolite / actinolite)".
While the FDA continued to investigate asbestos in talc, J & J sent powder samples to be tested in private and university labs. Although a private laboratory in Chicago found traces of tremolite, he declared the quantity "insignificant" and the samples "substantially free of asbestiform material". J & J reported this discovery to the FDA with a cover letter saying that "the results clearly show" The tested samples "do not contain chrysotile asbestos." The J & J lawyer told Reuters that the quagmire found in the samples was not asbestos.
But the submission of the FDA to J & J did not allow Professor Thomas E. Hutchinson to find the chrysotile in a sample of Shower to Shower by Professor Thomas E. Hutchinson – "the incontrovertible asbestos", like the # 39; has described in a laboratory note.
The same FDA examinations did not find asbestos in the J & J powder samples in the '70s. However, these tests did not use the most sensitive detection methods. An initial test, for example, was not able to detect chrysotile fibers, as an FDA official recognized in a J & J account on August 11, 1972, where the agency met: "I understand that some samples will be passed even if they contain such fibers, but we are willing to live with it. "
In 1973, Tom Shelley, director of J & J's Central Research Laboratories in New Jersey, was examining the acquisition of patents on a process that a British mineralogist and a J & J consultant were developing to separate talc. from tremolite.
"It is possible that eventually tremolite is forbidden in all talc", wrote Shelley on February 20, 1973 to a British colleague. Therefore, he added, "the process could be a valuable property for us".
At the end of March, Shelley recognized the sensitivity of the plan in a memo sent to a J & J lawyer in New Jersey: "We want to carefully consider … asbestos patents in talcum It is quite possible that we might want to keep the all confidential rather than allowing it to be published in the form of a patent and therefore to make the whole world known. "
J & J did not obtain the patents.
While Shelley was examining patents, J & J research director DeWitt Petterson visited the company's Vermont mining business. "Occasionally traces of tremolite or actinolite are identifiable," he wrote in an April 1973 report on the visit. "And these could be classified as asbestos fibers."
J & J should "protect our powder franchise" by eliminating the number of tiny fibers that can be inhaled into aerated talcum powder as much as possible, Petterson wrote. He warned, however, that "no end product will ever be made that will be totally free of respirable particles". The introduction of a powdered corn baby version, he noted, "is obviously another 'answer'.
Bicks told Reuters that J & J believes that Petterson's tremolite and actinolite were not asbestos.
Cornstarch returned to a report dated March 5, 1974 in which Ashton, the chief supply of talc J & J, recommended the company to look for the alternative "for defensive reasons" because "the push against talc. it focused primarily on the alleged biological problems of talc and related mineral particles inhalation. "
"WE CAN HAVE PROBLEMS"
A few months after Petterson's recognition that the purity of talc was an unrealizable dream, the FDA proposed a rule that the talc used in drugs does not contain more than 0.1% of asbestos. While the cosmetics division of the agency was considering a similar action on talc powders, it asked companies to suggest testing methods.
At the time, J & J's deductible Baby Powder consumed 20,000 tons of Vermont talcum all year. J & J urged the FDA to approve an X-ray scanning technique that a company scientist said in a memorandum of April 1973 admitting "an automatic tolerance of 1% for asbestos ". This would mean the talc with a limit of up to 10 times the limit proposed by the FDA for asbestos drugs could pass recovery.
The same scientist confided in a note dated October 23, 1973 to a colleague who, depending on which test the FDA has adopted to detect asbestos in cosmetic talc, "we may have problems".
The best way to detect the asbestos in the talc was to concentrate the sample and then examine it through microscopes, told J & J in a report dated December 27, 1973, the Colorado School's Research Institute on Mines. In a note, a J & J workshop supervisor said the concentration technique, which the company's researchers had previously used to identify a "type of tremolite" of asbestos in Vermont talc, had a limitation: "It could be too sensitive ".
In his e-mail to Reuters, J & J's attorney said that the lab supervisor's concern was that the test would produce "false positives", showing asbestos where there was no & # 39; it was nobody.
J & J also started a search to find out how much dust was exposed to a child during a paneling and how much asbestos could be in that dust and stay within the exposure limits to OSHA's new workplace. His researchers had tied an air sampling device to a doll to make measurements while it was powdered, according to J & J memos and the minutes of a February 19, 1974 meeting of the Cosmetic Toiletry and Fragrance Association (CTFA ), an industrial group.
"It has been calculated that even though the talc was pure asbestos, the exposure levels of a child during normal dusting are far below the accepted tolerance limits", the minutes state.
In a letter dated September 6, 1974, J & J told the FDA that since "a substantial safety factor can be expected" with talc containing the 1% of asbestos, "methods can determine less than # 1; 1% of asbestos in talc are not necessary to ensure the safety of cosmetic talc. "
Not everyone at the FDA thought that basing a detection method on this calculation was a good idea. An official called it "insane", adding, according to a report by J & J of a meeting in February 1975: "No mother was going to moisten her child with 1% of a known carcinogen, independently from a broad security factor ".
PUSH FOR AUTO-ADJUSTMENT
Failing to convince the FDA that up to 1% of asbestos contamination was tolerable, J & J started promoting self-policing as an alternative to regulation. The focus of this approach was a package of letters dated 15 March 1976 from J & J and other manufacturers that CTFA provided to the agency to demonstrate that they had succeeded in eliminating asbestos from cosmetic talcum.
"The enclosed letters demonstrate the responsibility of the industry in monitoring its talcs," said the cover letter. "We are confident that the summary will guarantee you the freedom from asbestos contamination for the materials of cosmetic talc products".
In his letter, J & J said that talc samples produced between December 1972 and October 1973 were tested for asbestos, and none were detected "in any sample".
J & J did not tell the FDA a 1974 test from a professor at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire who discovered asbestos in talc from J & J – actinolite "fiberform", as he said. Nor did the company report to the FDA a 1975 report of its long-standing laboratory that found particles identified as "asbestos fibers" in five out of 17 samples of talc from the primary source of origin for Baby Powder. "Some seem quite tall", wrote the private laboratory in his letter of introduction.
Bicks, J & J's lawyer, said that the results of the contract laboratory are irrelevant because the talc was for industrial use. He said the company now believes that the actinolite that the Dartmouth professor found "was not asbestiform," based on his interpretation of a photo in the original lab report.
Just two months after the professor of Dartmouth reported his findings, Vernon Zeitz, director of Windsor Minerals for research and development, wrote that chrysotile, "fibrillinous antophyllite" and other types of asbestos had been found "in association with the body Hammondsville mineral "- the Vermont warehouse that supplied Talco Baby Powder for over two decades.
The May 1974 report by Zeitz on efforts to minimize asbestos in the Vermont talc "strongly urged" the adoption of ways to protect "against those who are currently considered as materials presenting a serious risk to the health and potentially present in all talcum in use at this time. "
Bicks said that Zeitz did not report the actual test results.
The following year, Zeitz reported that on the basis of weekly tests of talc samples in the space of six months, "it can be said with a certainty of more than 99.9% that minerals and materials produced from minerals in all Windsor Mineral sites are free from asbestos or mineral asbestiform. "
"ERRORING FROM THE OMISSION"
The selective use by J & J of the test results emerged this year in a decision by the New Jersey judge to assert the first verdict against the company in a case where the asbestos in the J & J products caused cancer. "Providing favorable results from the FDA that do not show asbestos and deem or fail to deliver unfavorable results, which show asbestos, is a form of misrepresentation by omission," said Middlesex County Supreme Court Judge, Ana Viscomi , in its June ruling.
"J & J respectfully does not agree with the judge's comments," Bicks said. "J & J did not hold any relevant tests from the FDA."
The FDA declined to comment on the sentence.
With no consensus on test methods, the FDA postponed the action to limit asbestos in talc. Years later, he placed limits on asbestos in the talc used in the drug. It has never limited asbestos in cosmetic talc or established a preferred method for detecting it.
Instead, in 1976, a CTFA committee chaired by a J & J executive drew up voluntary guidelines, establishing a form of X-ray scanning with a limit of 0.5% detection as the primary test, the preferred method by J & J The method is not designed to detect the most common type of asbestos, chrysotile, at all. The group said that the most sensitive electron microscopy was impractical.
The CTFA, which now does business as a personal care products council, declined to comment.
X-ray scanning is the primary method used by J & J for decades. The company also periodically requires the most sensitive controls with electron microscopes. J & J's lawyer said the company's tests exceed the trade association standards, and they do so. He also said that today, X-ray scans from J & J can detect suspected minerals at levels below 0.1 percent of a sample.
But the company never adopted the 1973 Colorado Lab recommendation that the samples be concentrated before microscopic examination. And the samples of talc subjected to the most sensitive electron microscopy test were a small part of what was sold. For these and other reasons, J & J could not guarantee that his Baby Powder was asbestos-free when the plaintiffs used it, according to experts, including some who testified to plaintiffs.
Already in 1976 Ashton, J & J's longtime talented overseer, recognized him in a note to his colleagues. He wrote that talc in general, if subjected to the most sensitive test method, using concentrated samples, "it will be difficult to sustain the purity requirements". Ha descritto questo tipo di test sia "sofisticati" che "inquietanti".
"LIBERO DI PERICOLO"
Nel 1977, J & J sembrava aver represso le preoccupazioni sulla sicurezza del talco. Un rapporto interno di agosto sulla campagna "Difesa della sicurezza del talco" di J & J ha rilevato che le autorità indipendenti hanno ritenuto i prodotti cosmetici talc "liberi da rischi". Attribuito "questa opinione crescente" alla diffusione a comunità scientifiche e mediche negli Stati Uniti e La Gran Bretagna di "dati favorevoli dai vari studi sponsorizzati da J & J".
Nel 1984, il capo della cosmetica della FDA e l'ex impiegato di J & J Heinz Eiermann hanno ribadito questa visione. Ha detto al New York Times che le indagini dell'agenzia un decennio prima avevano spinto l'industria a garantire che il talco fosse privo di amianto. "Quindi nelle analisi successive", ha detto al giornale, "non siamo in grado di identificare l'amianto o solo in rare occasioni".
Due anni dopo, la FDA ha respinto una richiesta dei cittadini secondo cui il talco cosmetico recava un'etichetta di avvertenza sull'amianto, dicendo che anche se vi fosse una contaminazione, l'uso di talco durante due anni di pannolino normale non aumenterebbe il rischio di cancro.
Nel 1980, J & J ha iniziato a offrire una versione a base di mais in polvere per neonati – per espandere la sua base di clienti alle persone che preferiscono l'amido di mais, dice la compagnia.
La persistenza del punto di vista del settore secondo cui il talco cosmetico è privo di amianto è il motivo per cui non sono stati condotti studi sull'incidenza del mesotelioma tra gli utilizzatori dei prodotti. In parte è anche il motivo per cui i regolamenti che proteggono le persone in miniere, mulini, fabbriche e scuole di talco amianto non si applicano ai bambini e ad altri esposti al talco cosmetico – anche se Talco Baby Powder a volte proviene dalle stesse miniere del talco venduto per uso industriale. J & J afferma che il talco cosmetico è più elaborato e quindi più puro del talco industriale.
Fino a poco tempo fa, l'American Cancer Society (ACS) ha accettato la posizione del settore, affermando sul suo sito web: "Tutti i prodotti di talco utilizzati nelle case sono stati privi di amianto sin dagli anni '70".
Dopo aver ricevuto le richieste di Reuters, l'ACS all'inizio di dicembre ha rivisto il suo sito web per rimuovere la certezza che i talchi cosmetici sono privi di amianto. Ora, dice, citando gli standard del settore, che tutti i prodotti di talco cosmetici negli Stati Uniti "dovrebbero essere privi di quantità rilevabili di amianto".
La pagina Web ACS rivista rileva inoltre che l'Agenzia internazionale per la ricerca sul cancro dell'Organizzazione mondiale della sanità classifica talco che contiene l'amianto come "cancerogeno per l'uomo".
Nonostante il successo degli sforzi di J & J per promuovere la sicurezza del suo talco, il laboratorio di test dell'azienda ha trovato fibre di amianto in campioni prelevati dall'operazione Vermont nel 1984, 1985 e 1986. Bicks ha dichiarato: "I campioni che conosciamo durante questo periodo che conteneva una fibra o due di amianto non erano campioni di talco cosmetici ".
Poi, nel 1992, tre anni dopo che J & J vendette le sue miniere del Vermont, il nuovo proprietario, Cyprus Minerals, disse in un rapporto interno su "importanti questioni ambientali" nelle sue riserve di talco che c'era "tremolite passata" nel deposito di Hammondsville. Hammondsville è stata la fonte principale del talco Baby Powder dal 1966 fino alla sua chiusura nel 1990.
Bicks ha respinto la relazione di Cipro come diceria, dicendo che non c'è documentazione originale per confermarlo. I record della miniera di Hammondsville, secondo un memorandum di J & J del 1993, "sono stati distrutti dallo staff di gestione delle miniere poco prima della cessione di J & J".
Bicks ha detto che i documenti distrutti non includono i record di test del talco.
Nel 2002 e 2003, gli operatori di miniere del Vermont hanno trovato fibre di amianto crisotilo in diverse occasioni in talco prodotto per Baby Powder venduto in Canada. In ogni caso, è stata registrata una singola fibra – una scoperta ritenuta "BDL" – al di sotto del limite di rilevamento. Bicks ha descritto il ritrovamento come "sfondo amianto" che non proviene da nessuna fonte di talco.
Nel 2009, la FDA, rispondendo alla crescente preoccupazione del pubblico riguardo al talco, ha commissionato test su 34 campioni, tra cui una bottiglia di J & J Baby Powder e campioni di talco Imerys dalla Cina. Nessun amianto è stato rilevato.
Il commissario della FDA Scott Gottlieb ha detto che l'agenzia continua a ricevere molte domande sui cosmetici talco. "Riconosco la preoccupazione", ha detto a Reuters. He said the agency’s policing of cosmetics in general – fewer than 30 people regulating a “vast” industry – was “a place where we think we can be doing more.”
Gottlieb said the FDA planned to host a public forum in early 2019 to “look at how we would develop standards for evaluating any potential risk.” An agency spokeswoman said that would include examining “scientific test methods for assessment of asbestos.”
Before law school, Herschel Hobson worked at a rubber plant. There, his job included ensuring that asbestos in talc the workers were exposed to didn’t exceed OSHA limits.
That’s why he zeroed in on Johnson’s Baby Powder after he took on Darlene Coker as a client in 1997. The lawsuit Coker and her husband, Roy, filed that year against J&J in Jefferson County District Court in Beaumont, Texas, is the earliest Reuters found alleging Baby Powder caused cancer.
Hobson asked J&J for any research it had into the health of its mine workers; talc production records from the mid-1940s through the 1980s; depositions from managers of three labs that tested talc for J&J; and any documents related to testing for fibrous or asbestiform materials.
J&J objected. Hobson’s “fishing expedition” would not turn up any relevant evidence, it asserted in a May 6, 1998, motion. In fact, among the thousands of documents Hobson’s request could have turned up was a letter J&J lawyers had received only weeks earlier from a Rutgers University geologist confirming that she had found asbestos in the company’s Baby Powder, identified in her 1991 published study as tremolite “asbestos” needles.
Hobson agreed to postpone his discovery requests until he got the Coker lung tissue report. Before it came in, J&J asked the judge to dismiss the case, arguing that Coker had “no evidence” Baby Powder caused mesothelioma.
Ten days later, the pathology report landed: Coker’s lung tissue contained tens of thousands of “long fibers” of four different types of asbestos. The findings were “consistent with exposure to talc containing chrysotile and tremolite contamination,” the report concluded.
“The asbestos fibers found raise a new issue of fact,” Hobson told the judge in a request for more time to file an opposition to J&J’s dismissal motion. Il giudice gli diede più tempo ma rifiutò la sua richiesta di riprendere la scoperta.
Without evidence from J & J and no hope of ever having it, Hobson advised Coker to abandon the case.
Hobson is still practicing law in Nederland, Texas. When Reuters told him about the evidence that had emerged in recent litigation, he said: “They knew what the problems were, and they hid it.” J&J’s records would have made a “100% difference” in Coker’s case.
Had the information about asbestos in J&J’s talc come out earlier, he said, “maybe there would have been 20 years less exposure” for other people.
Bicks, the J&J lawyer, said Coker dropped her case because “the discovery established that J&J talc had nothing to do with Plaintiff’s disease, and that asbestos exposure from a commercial or occupational setting was the likely cause.”
Coker never knew why he had mesothelioma. You beat the odds, though. Most patients die within a year of diagnosis. Coker resisted enough to see his two nephews. He died in 2009, 12 years after his diagnosis, at the age of 63.
Coker’s daughter Crystal Deckard was 5 when her sister, Cady, was born in 1971. Deckard remembers seeing the white bottle of Johnson’s Baby Powder on the changing table where her mother diapered her new sister.
“When Mom was given this death sentence, she was the same age as I am right now,” Deckard said. “I have it in the back of my mind all the time. Potrebbe succedere a noi? Me? My sister?”
(This story has been refiled to specify in paragraph 29 the Imerys SA unit that is co-defendant with J&J in talc litigation.)
Edited by Janet Roberts and John Blanton