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Unsealed court documents reveal that Johnson and Johnson paid to inject prisoners with asbestos in the 1970s. The documents were made public last year as part of lawsuits concerning the safety of the company’s baby powder after plaintiffs’ attorneys fought for years to make the company’s testing records public. The company worked with Dr. Albert Kligman, who for decades experimented on prisoners at Holmesburg Prison, outside of Philadelphia, on behalf of entities such as Johnson and Johnson, DOW Chemical, and the United States government.

Kligman conducted at least two experiments on prisoners funded by Johnson and Johnson. The first happened in 1968, when fifty prisoners had talc powder from various containers rubbed on their skin, to observe whether the type of container had any sort of effect. The second Johnson and Johnson funded experiment was in 1971. In that experiment, Kligman recruited ten prisoners who each had tremolite asbestos, chrysotile asbestos, and talc powder injected into their backs. Each inmate was paid $10 and was misled about potential side effects.

When asked for comment about these new revelations by FiercePharma (an industry publication) Johnson and Johnson noted that they regretted what had occurred, while at the same time defending their actions stating in part, “at the time of these studies, nearly 50 years ago, testing of this nature among this cohort set was widely accepted, including by prominent researchers, leading public companies, and the U.S. government itself.”

To the contrary, plaintiffs’ attorneys argued that Johnson and Johnson’s experiments demonstrate that the company has for decades been concerned with asbestos contamination in its baby powder. Johnsons and Johnson told The BMJ in a statement that “the dignity of clinical testing participants must always be the highest moral imperative, which is why this type of testing was discontinued more than 40 years ago. We deeply regret the conditions under which these studies were conducted and in no way do they reflect the values or practices we employ today.”


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