By Chris Kirkham
(Reuters) – Johnson & Johnson said Wednesday it has received subpoenas from the U.S. Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) related to litigation involving alleged asbestos contamination in its signature Baby Powder product line.
The company said it intends to “cooperate fully with these inquiries and will continue to defend the Company in the talc-related litigation.”
The disclosure in Johnson & Johnson’s annual report on Wednesday is the first time that the company disclosed it had received subpoenas from federal agencies regarding its talc powder products.
The Justice Department declined to comment and the SEC did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
A Reuters report on Dec. 14 revealed that Johnson & Johnson knew for decades that small amounts of asbestos, a known carcinogen, had been occasionally found in its talc and powder products, according to tests from the 1970s to the early 2000s – information it did not disclose to regulators or the public.
The Reuters article prompted a selloff in Johnson & Johnson shares, erasing about $40 billion from the company’s market value in one day, and a public relations crisis as the healthcare conglomerate faced widespread questions about the possible health effects of one of its most iconic products.
Johnson & Johnson said that the federal inquiries “are related to news reports that included inaccurate statements and also withheld crucial information” that had already been made public.
The company added that “decades of independent tests by regulators and the world’s leading labs prove Johnson & Johnson’s baby powder is safe and asbestos-free, and does not cause cancer.”
Johnson & Johnson faces lawsuits involving 13,000 plaintiffs who allege use of its talc products, including Baby Powder, caused cancer.
Last month, U.S. Democratic Senator Patty Murray sent a letter to J&J Chief Executive Alex Gorsky seeking documents and information related to testing of its talc products for the presence of carcinogens and “how it presented that information to regulators and consumers.”
(Reporting by Chris Kirkham; Editing by Neil Fullick)