Friday, December 14, 2018

Hey, what are you so mad about? We only gave you a little bit of cancer.

Human lungs destroyed by mesothelioma. Photo from the Pathology Education
Informational Resources Digital Library public access image database.
If you want or need yet another example of why the Trump administration’s urge to deregulate consumer protections are so horrifying, take a look at Johnson & Johnson. Or should they be called Murder & Murder?

A shocking piece of investigative reporting by Lisa Girion at Reuters indicates that, “Facing thousands of lawsuits alleging that its talc caused cancer, J&J insists on the safety and purity of its iconic product. But internal documents examined by Reuters show that the company’s powder was sometimes tainted with carcinogenic asbestos and that J&J kept that information from regulators and the public.”

Well, this is going to cost Johnson&Johnson some money in court. Probably. It has already cost its stockholders plenty. Last time I looked today, J&J stock was down more than nine and a half percent. 

In the end, my guess is J&J will settle some lawsuits and cheerfully continue doing business. My other guess is that government regulatory agencies will do nothing, or at least nothing significant, to make an example of J&J.

I’m not talking about damages and fines, even costly punitive fines. Big business has come to regard those as simply the cost of doing business. I’m talking about charges of negligent homicide, and stiff prison terms for J&J executives, from the very top down, who knew their product was carcinogenic and hushed up the news to protect sales and profits.

Since the discovery and subsequent lying about asbestos in their talc goes back to at least 1972, it’s possible that some of the guilty parties are already dead and others are retired. Fine, haul the still-living criminal old farts out of their retirement homes, perp walk ‘em into court, and put their evil butts on trial, same as we used to do for war criminals.

Justice demands it. The corpses of God-knows-how many people who died of mesothelioma and ovarian cancer caused by J&J products demand it. The deaths, still to come, of others, coughing and gasping for breath, demand it.

I know, I know. It ain’t gonna happen. Yet. 

Unless enough people make enough noise, long enough.

Consider this a shout. I hope it’s an early one that will eventually join others and become a roar so loud, it will be impossible for politicians and prosecutors to cover their ears any longer.


Unknown said...

I worked in the environmental, health and safety field for over 30 years. I worked as a regulator of asbestos, as a consultant to companies that were involved with asbestos and as an asbestos abatement contractor. Most of which is immaterial to what I'm going to say here, but I do know things about asbestos.

I found the Reuters article to be long on commentary but short on useful facts. If it were given to me to determine, I would want to know how many samples had been taken, where they came from, how they were handled (chain-of-custody is crucial in this kind of investigation). I'd want to know what statistical procedures J&J used to determine how ofter they sampled and tested using the X-ray method and how often using the electron microscope method (Transmission Electron Microscopy - known as TEM). And I'd like to see how well they conformed to their statistical methods.

Until there is some of that type of info made available, this is kind of a he-said, she-said situation.

The TEM method used to be fairly expensive, but now it is now affordable (down from high hundreds to over a thousand in the 80s to maybe $100 now), so going forward, J&J ought to be able to do much more of that analysis without straining their budgets. Stockholders might not even notice the change in cost....

The thing that makes me wonder about whether or not this report is correct is that hundreds of thousands if not millions of babies have been exposed to talcum powder. And they've been exposed at a time when their lungs are underdeveloped and therefore MORE at risk from exposure to asbestos. I can't immediately put my hands on any good data, but it would seem that epidemiologists would have been sounding the alarm if the rates of asbestosis and mesothelioma weren't dropping or at least staying steady.

Certainly this needs to be investigated and certainly J&J's response - blaming the plaintiffs and their attorneys - is unacceptable. I do NOT see this as a convincingly made case.

The New York Crank said...

All excellent points, Lynn. Sorry it took me so long to check for comments today, but I'm glad to receive this one. Better I'm late than never.


Unknown said...