In the late 1960s and early 1970s, pharmaceutical company Johnson and Johnson funded experiments on incarcerated people, which intentionally exposed them to asbestos, according to March 2022 reporting by The Independent and Daily Kos. Documents revealing Johnson and Johnson’s involvement 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, according to Bloomberg News. The company worked with Doctor 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, forty-four of them Black, 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. When asked by FiercePharma, an industry publication, for comment about these new revelations, 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.” On the other hand, certain 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.
Corporate media has largely ignored this story, with Bloomberg News and the Philadelphia Inquirer, which republished Bloomberg’s article, being the only corporate outlets reporting on it. Pharmaceutical industry publications such as FiercePharma, MedCity News, and EndPoints have also covered the story.
Josh Marcus, “Johnson and Johnson Talcum Powder Cancer Lawsuits Expose History of Human Experimentation on Black Prisoners,” The Independent, March 7, 2022.
Lauren Sue, “Unsealed Documents Reveal Johnson & Johnson Paid to Have Prisoners Injected with Asbestos,” Daily Kos, March 9, 2022.
Student Researcher: Annie Koruga (Ohlone College)
Faculty Evaluator: Robin Takahashi (Ohlone College)