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Johnson & Johnson stock gets hammered by a report saying it knew of asbestos in baby powder

Johnson & Johnson stock gets hammered by a report saying it knew of asbestos in baby powder
Johnson & Johnson baby powder is displayed for sale at a supermarket in Alhambra. (Frederic J. Brown / AFP/Getty Images)

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. The stock price finished down 10%, at $132.86. That wiped out more than $45 billion of market value.

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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, N.J., company has battled in court against such claims and on Friday called the Reuters report “one-sided, false and inflammatory.”

In the report, Reuters points out that documents show consulting labs as early as 1957 and 1958 found asbestos in Johnson & Johnson 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.”

In July, a jury ordered the company to pay $4.69 billion to women who claimed asbestos in the products caused them to develop ovarian cancer.

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