Programming Note: Darts and Letters is off and retooling to relaunch in a new format early 2024.

EP82: The Texas Two-Step and Johnson & Johnson’s Baby Powder

What’s safer than baby powder? Parents have been using it for over 100 years to powder their baby’s bottoms, and they’ve found one brand especially trustworthy: Johnson & Johnson.

Yet, numerous studies have revealed the presence of trace amounts of asbestos in this talc-based powder. Thousands of parents now claim that this asbestos is responsible for their cancers. In 2018, an explosive Reuters investigation catalogued the extent of this evidence, including the fact that J&J knew about the asbestos since the 1950s. Yet, J&J continued to sell the powder, right up until 2023. J&J disputes the tests, and calls the allegations spurious. However, the courts have weighed in, and in several cases they have sided with parents.

Producer Marc Apollonio guest hosts today, speaking with one of those claimants, Manon Lavigne. Also in the program, we speak with Dr. David Egilman, the scientist and expert witness who has studied asbestus in talc, and helped parents secure billions. Egilman is also something of a muckracker, having assiduously document what Johnson & Johnson knew, and how they influenced the FDA.

Now, over 38,000 lawsuits are being brought against the company. Johnson & Johnson is proposing a $9 billion dollar settlement for these claims, and all claims into the future. However, it depends on the courts accepting a controversial bankruptcy procedure called “the Texas Two-Step.” This strategy is being used to address a raft of personal injury complaints against a number of companies, but critics call it nothing more than a ‘sham bankruptcy’ that is being used to let corporations off the hook. The fate of the Two-Step is being decided right now, and there are billions at stakes for 100s of thousands of people in a variety of cases. Financial Times pharmaceutical correspondent Jamie Smyth recounts the history of the move, and discusses its legal status today.

This is part of a series looking at medical controversies and the politics of medicine. It received funding from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. Dr. Maya Goldenberg and Dr. Maxwell J. Smith are scholarly advisors to the project, with research from Yoshiyuki Miyasaka. For a full list of credits of Cited Media staff, visit our about page.

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