The U.S. Justice Department is pursuing a criminal investigation into whether Johnson & Johnson lied to the public about the possible cancer risks of its talcum powder, people with knowledge of the matter said, according to Bloomberg.
The criminal probe, which hasn’t been reported previously, coincides with a regulatory investigation and civil claims by thousands of cancer patients that J&J’s Baby Powder talc was responsible for their illness. Now, a grand jury in Washington is examining documents related to what company officials knew about any carcinogens in their products, the people said.
Baby Powder accounts for only a tiny fraction of J&J’s annual revenue, but it’s been a core brand for the company for more than a century. Questions about the product’s safety have led to more than 14,000 lawsuits from consumers asserting that the company’s talc products caused their ovarian cancer or mesothelioma, a rare form of the disease linked to asbestos exposure.
J&J disclosed in February that it had received subpoenas, but little was known then about the investigation behind them, including whether the matter was civil or criminal. The filing didn’t mention a grand jury.
The company said in a statement Friday that there had been no new developments. “We have been fully cooperating with the previously disclosed DOJ investigation and will continue to do so,” said J&J spokeswoman Kim Montagnino. “Johnson’s Baby Powder does not contain asbestos or cause cancer, as supported by decades of independent clinical evidence.”
The Justice Department didn’t respond to requests for comment.
Shares of J&J declined by 4.2% to close at $134.30, after falling as much as 5.6%.