Johnson's Baby Powder, Talc, Talcum, pics by Mike Mozart o… | Flickr

Even by the standards of rapacious American capitalism, Johnson & Johnson's move to shield itself from liability from claims its asbestos-laced baby powder caused cancer is really fucking gross.

Dubbed the "Texas two step," the company has deployed a maneuver designed to park a mountain of liabilities in a separate company chartered in Texas, then declare the sub-company bankrupt. It's fun like line dancing, except for when the lights come up at the end of the night, J&J gets to shield its assets, and the creditors — in this case women with ovarian cancer and mesothelioma — are left to fight each other for the crumbs. Like we said, REALLY FUCKING GROSS.


As Reuters and the New York Times revealed in 2018, J&J has known for decades that some of its talcum powder contained minute quantities of asbestos. Which makes sense, since talc is a soft mineral that has to be mined and can come out of the ground with asbestos in it. Nonetheless, they mixed it with cornstarch and promoted their "baby powder" as a safe product to be liberally sprinkled on babies or anywhere that might be moist and in need of a little freshening up.

Well, not just anywhere. Generations of women were taught that their vaginas were gross and smelly, and sprinkling baby powder on them was necessary to keep that lady garden from turning into a fetid swamp. And companies like J&J gladly profited off this shaming, with advertising promoting "a sprinkle a day." (And if you think that's vile, ask your grandmother what she did with Lysol.)

"I'd bring my underwear to my thighs and shoot it in there, but I didn't want it clumpy, so I'd kind of shake it and bring it up, and I'd poof it out a bit," a 46-year-old South Carolina woman testified during litigation against the company in 2018. Which is presumably what the company meant by its tagline "Better for Baby, Better for You."

Now, in the interest of fairness, we should point out that the link between talcum powder and ovarian cancer has not been conclusively demonstrated. But the evidence has often been clear enough to convince a jury, and the company's deliberate obfuscation of the presence of a known carcinogen in its product doesn't help.

J&J is currently facing tens of thousands of lawsuits, and in June the Supreme Court refused to overturn a $2.1 billion jury verdict awarded to a couple of dozen plaintiffs alone. Hence, the company's boot scoot into the open arms of Texas's secretary of state, whence was begotten LTL Management LLC, a corporate garbage bin for the company's talcum powder liabilities.

"On October 14, 2021, LTL Management LLC, a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson, voluntarily filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. This action was taken to resolve all claims related to cosmetic talc in a manner that is equitable to all parties, including any current and future claimants," began the company's extremely unsubtle press release, before hastening to assure shareholders not to worry their pretty little heads.

"Johnson & Johnson and its other affiliates did not file for bankruptcy protection and will continue to operate their businesses as usual," they soothed.

OH, THANK GOD.

"To demonstrate its commitment to resolving the cosmetic talc cases and remove any financial objections to the process, Johnson & Johnson has agreed to provide funding to LTL for the payment of amounts the Bankruptcy Court determines are owed by LTL and will also establish a $2 billion trust in furtherance of this purpose," it continued. "In addition, LTL has been allocated certain royalty revenue streams with a present value of over $350 million to further contribute to potential costs."

In case you didn't catch that math, J&J, a company with $25 billion in cash reserves, is parking $2 billion plus some pocket change in the LLC — an amount far less than its current outstanding jury verdicts — and telling the women to fight for it. And on Friday the company asked a court in North Carolina to put a hold on pending talc litigation in light of the bankruptcy filing.

Which sounds pretty sleazy, right? But if you think about it, isn't the company the real victim here?

Haha, piss off. But J&J is going to give that one the old college try.

In a call with shareholders Tuesday, reported by NPR, J&J CFO Joseph Wolk insisted the company's product was safe and blamed greedy lawyers for forcing it to stiff its creditors.

"There's an established process that allows companies facing abusive tort systems to resolve claims in an efficient and equitable manner," Wolk said, before pivoting to claim that it was actually judges forcing the plaintiffs to battle it out for pennies.

"It's really the bankruptcy courts that will ultimately decide this. It's not plaintiff attorneys. It's not Johnson & Johnson," he said.

Well. Bless his heart.

[Drugwatch / NPR]

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Liz Dye

Liz Dye lives in Baltimore with her wonderful husband and a houseful of teenagers. When she isn't being mad about a thing on the internet, she's hiding in plain sight in the carpool line. She's the one wearing yoga pants glaring at her phone.

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