More than three years after the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) announced it was pursuing a criminal investigation into whether Johnson & Johnson (J&J) misled the public about the risks of using its talcum-based products, two members of the U.S. House of Representatives are demanding an update about the legal probe. 

Steve Cohen and Rosa DeLauro wrote separate letters to U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland asking for a DOJ update. The nation’s top law enforcement agency announced the criminal investigation in July 2019, which Bloomberg reported on. 

In a letter dated August 24, Representative Cohen addressed Garland, stating, “I write to inquire about the Department of Justice’s investigation into Johnson and Johnson’s sale of baby powder contaminated with asbestos, one of the most carcinogenic substances. To date, thousands of women have died and many more continue to suffer with horrific health conditions directly caused by the asbestos, with the most frequent being ovarian cancer.”

Cohen’s letter continues, “It is my understanding that the Department of Justice has opened an investigation into this issue and a grand jury was convened in 2019. I understand that several inquiries have been made to the Department, but no response has been provided.”

Cohen, who is Chairman of the Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, added that he was particularly disturbed to recently learn that J&J was aware of the asbestos contamination in its line of talc products and the potential health risks, yet specifically targeted women of color and overweight women in its marketing campaigns. 

Representative DeLauro’s letter to Garland raised similar concerns. She wrote, “[J&J] knew their talcum powder products increased the risk of ovarian cancer. Yet in 1992 and in 2004, J&J specifically targeted African-American and Hispanic women with marketing campaigns to increase sales.”

DeLauro also criticized J&J’s attempt to seek bankruptcy protection via the “Texas Two-Step,” a procedure that shifts legal liabilities into a newly-created subsidiary. The controversial maneuver would shield J&J from litigation while allowing the parent company to operate business as usual, with no “burdens of bankruptcy,” DeLauro said, adding, “J&J has done so despite having a market cap of close to approximately $460 billion and annual revenues in excess of $85 billion.” 

J&J faces tens of thousands of talcum powder cancer lawsuits. Plaintiffs allege that J&J has known about the risk of asbestos contamination in its talc products since at least the early 1960s.