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J&J hammered by report it knew of asbestos in baby powder

A container of Johnson Johnson baby powder.

Reuters reported that court documents and test results show Johnson & Johnson has known for decades that its raw talc and finished baby powder sometimes contained asbestos. | AP file photo

NEW YORK — Johnson & Johnson is forcefully denying a media report that it knew for decades about the existence of trace amounts of asbestos in its baby powder.

The report Friday by the Reuters news service sent company shares into a tailspin, suffering their worst sell-off in 16 years.

Reuters is citing documents released as part of a lawsuit by plaintiffs claiming that the product can be linked to ovarian cancer. The New Brunswick, New Jersey, company has battled in court against such claims and on Friday called the Reuters report, “one-sided, false and inflammatory.”

Johnson & Johnson dropped 10 percent to $133 in very heavy trading, the most severe decline since 2002. Its market value fell by $40 billion.

In the report, Reuters points out that documents show consulting labs as early as 1957 and 1958 found asbestos in J&J talc. Further reports by the company and outside labs showed similar findings through the early 2000s.

In its statement Friday, Johnson & Johnson said “thousands of independent tests by regulators and the world’s leading labs prove our baby powder has never contained asbestos.”