Multinational pharmaceutical company, Johnson and Johnson (J&J) has been forced to rebut allegations of selling its baby powder  with knowledge of trace carcinogenic asbestos contaminants, following a damning article published by Reuters last week.

Investigations led by the international news agency alleged the company was aware of trace elements of cancer-causing asbestos in its products from as early as 1971.

An examination was conducted after Darlene Coker, 52, USA, sued the brand two decades ago, claiming J&J’s baby powder caused her ovarian cancer.

J&J denied allegations at the time, and refused to disclose confidential internal documents, leaving Ms Coker with no option but to abandon her case.

Reuters subsequent examination of internal memos, reports and additional confidential documents has however revived scrutiny against J&J, once again forcing the company to mount a defence.

In the report, published Friday, December 14, 2018, Reuters alleged “the company’s powder was sometimes tainted with carcinogenic asbestos and that J&J kept that information from regulators and the public.”

Notes exposed in the article claimed from 1971 into the early 2000s, raw talc and finished powders sold by the company tested positive for small amounts of asbestos.

While most J&J test reports reviewed by Reuters did not identify asbestos, it alleged the company’s testing methods had always had limitations, meaning trace contaminants could have gone undetected.

Reuters further alleged only a small volume of the company’s talc was tested, despite testing methods having improved over time.

On the same day the report was published, J&J cited “any suggestion that Johnson & Johnson knew or hid information about the safety of talc is false”.

In the wake of allegations levelled at the company, its shares dropped three per cent on the New York Stock Exchange, following a plunge of 10 per cent on Friday, December 14.

A significant $56 billion was knocked from J&Js market capitalisation following publication of the Reuters report.

J&J revealed on Monday its intention to re-purchase $4.7 billion of its common stock.

In a written report mounting a defence against Reuters’ allegations, J&J claimed the news outlet purposely omitted information supplied by the manufacturer that demonstrated baby powder did not cause cancer and was safe for use.

The report also stated the J&Js baby powder was asbestos-free, had been repeatedly screened for the contaminant, and the company had cooperated with US and other regulators.