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J&J exploring putting talc liabilities into bankruptcy

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Johnson & Johnson is exploring a plan to offload liabilities from widespread Baby Powder litigation into a newly created business that would then seek bankruptcy protection, according to seven people familiar with the matter.

During settlement discussions, one of the healthcare conglomerate’s attorneys has told plaintiffs’ lawyers that J&J could pursue the bankruptcy plan, which could result in lower payouts for cases that do not settle beforehand, some of the people said. Plaintiffs’ lawyers would initially be unable to stop J&J from taking such a step, though could pursue legal avenues to challenge it later.

J&J has not yet decided whether to pursue the bankruptcy plan and could ultimately abandon the idea, some of the people said. Reuters could not determine whether J&J has retained restructuring lawyers to help the company explore the bankruptcy plan.

J&J faces legal actions from tens of thousands of plaintiffs alleging its Baby Powder and other talc products contained asbestos and caused cancer. The plaintiffs include women suffering from ovarian cancer and others battling mesothelioma.

“Johnson & Johnson Consumer Inc. has not decided on any particular course of action in this litigation other than to continue to defend the safety of talc and litigate these cases in the tort system, as the pending trials demonstrate,” the J&J subsidiary housing the company’s talc products said in a statement provided to Reuters. J&J declined further comment.

Should J&J proceed, plaintiffs who have not settled could find themselves in protracted bankruptcy proceedings with a likely much smaller company. Future payouts to plaintiffs would be dependent on how J&J decides to fund the entity housing its talc liabilities.

J&J is now considering using Texas’s “divisive merger” law, which allows a company to split into at least two entities. For J&J, that could create a new entity housing talc liabilities that would then file for bankruptcy to halt litigation, some of the people said.

The maneuver is known among legal experts as a Texas two-step bankruptcy, a strategy other companies facing asbestos litigation have used in recent years.

J&J could also explore using another mechanism to effectuate the bankruptcy filing besides the Texas law, some of the people said.

A 2018 Reuters investigation https://www.reuters.com/investigates/special-report/johnsonandjohnson-cancer found J&J knew for decades that asbestos, a known carcinogen, lurked in its Baby Powder and other cosmetic talc products. The company stopped selling Baby Powder in the U.S. and Canada in May 2020, in part due to what it called “misinformation” and “unfounded allegations” about the talc-based product. J&J maintains its consumer talc products are safe and confirmed through thousands of tests to be asbestos-free.

The blue-chip company, which boasts a roughly $443 billion market value, faces legal actions from more than 30,000 plaintiffs alleging its talc products were unsafe. In June, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear J&J’s appeal of a Missouri court ruling that resulted in $2 billion of damages awarded to women alleging the company’s talc caused their ovarian cancer.

Plaintiffs’ lawyers view the two-step bankruptcy strategy as one that skirts potentially expensive settlements or judgments. Companies view it as a way to corral numerous lawsuits in one court for efficient negotiations that bankruptcy law dictates for asbestos liabilities. The company outside bankruptcy can reach a funding agreement with the entity navigating a court restructuring to cover future settlement payments.

In 2017, Brawny paper towels manufacturer Georgia-Pacific used the Texas law to move asbestos liabilities to an entity that later filed for bankruptcy in North Carolina.

Bankruptcy cases filed to resolve litigation, including those related to asbestos, often take years, and almost never fully repay creditors. OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma LP, for instance, is near resolving thousands of opioid lawsuits after two years of bankruptcy negotiations with a plan valued at more than $10 billion to address trillions of dollars in claims.

Another company, DBMP LLC, filed for bankruptcy last year to resolve asbestos liabilities and said the case could take up to eight years, according to a company press release.

J&J also faces litigation alleging it contributed to the U.S. opioid epidemic and recently recalled certain spray sunscreen products after discovering some of them contained low levels of benzene, another carcinogen.

The company in June agreed to pay $263 million to resolve opioid claims in New York. It has denied wrongdoing related to its opioids.

(Additional reporting by Nate Raymond; editing by Vanessa O’Connell and Edward Tobin)

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Canada’s wildfires could cost billions, kill thousands if nothing is done: report – Global News

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Western Canada must urgently address the threats posed by highly destructive wildfires or face deadly and costly consequences, says a group of forest and environmental experts from British Columbia and the United States.

The experts, including Mathieu Bourbonnais, assistant professor of earth and environmental sciences at the University of B.C. Okanagan, predict devastating wildfires like those currently burning in B.C. will be “commonplace” by 2050.

The group has released a paper predicting billions of dollars spent on suppression and indirect costs from the fires _ as well as hundreds or thousands of premature deaths each year due to smoke exposure _ ifaction isn’t taken to address climate change and the “daunting” scale of fuel, such as fallen trees and dead vegetation, that’s built up.

“If you look at record-breaking seasons, we’ve spent hundreds of millions of dollars on fire suppression,” said Bourbonnais, a former wildland firefighter from Alberta.


Click to play video: 'Concerns about the adverse effects of B.C. wildfire smoke pollution'



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Concerns about the adverse effects of B.C. wildfire smoke pollution


Concerns about the adverse effects of B.C. wildfire smoke pollution

“You can think about, if you spread that out over a couple of seasons, how may communities we could be engaged with on protecting watersheds, protecting drinking water sources, the communities themselves, high-value infrastructure, the ecosystems,” he said in an interview. “By doing that, we’re investing in a future that hopefully we don’t need to spend those kind of dollars on fire suppression.”

The group’s paper suggests creating patches of space in the forest that contain less flammable material, a strategy that can also boost the efficacy of fire suppression efforts, said Bourbonnais.

“Rather than crews responding to a fire with nothing but fuel in front of them, there are natural fire breaks, there’s old prescribed burns that help slow the fire down.”

Read more:
B.C. wildfire update: A pause in rapid fire growth but forecast remains hot and dry

Asked about the paper, the director of fire centre operations for the BC Wildfire Service said there was recognition of the work that needed to be done with communities as well as reducing fuel in the forests following historic wildfire seasons in 2017 and 2018.

“I’m part of many different planning tables and discussions within this province and within this ministry on how do we do this better,” Rob Schweitzer told a news conference on Thursday.

“Through prescribed fire, through utilization of Indigenous traditional knowledge in use of fire, as well as amending our forest harvesting practices and the woody debris left behind, are all pieces that we continue to discuss and actually start to change policy and implement new strategies to help reduce that amount of fuel.”


Click to play video: 'South Okanagan couple loses home to Nk’Mip Creek wildfire'



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South Okanagan couple loses home to Nk’Mip Creek wildfire


South Okanagan couple loses home to Nk’Mip Creek wildfire

About 1,250 wildfires have charred 4,560 square kilometres of bush since the start of B.C.’s fire season in April, compared with the 10-year average of 658 fires and about 1,060 square kilometres burned over the same time period, Schweitzer said.

Three dozen of the 245 wildfires that were burning in B.C on Thursday were considered either extremely threatening or highly visible, including a 655-square-kilometre fire north of Kamloops Lake that prompted an evacuation order for nearly 300 properties.

There were 28 states of local emergency and more than 60 evacuation orders covering 3,443 properties on Thursday. Nearly 90 evacuation alerts covered 17,679 properties, where residents were told to be ready to leave at a moment’s notice, said Pader Brach, executive director of regional operations for Emergency Management BC.

The number of daily new fires has subsided this week, Schweitzer said.


Click to play video: 'Concern over long-term impact of Ontario wildfires'



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Concern over long-term impact of Ontario wildfires


Concern over long-term impact of Ontario wildfires

But higher temperatures are expected to contribute to “severe burning conditions” in B.C.’s southern half, he added. The forecast should bring more fresh air to the Interior, he said, fuelling a “short-lived increase in fire growth” but also aiding firefighting efforts by air, which have been hampered by smoky skies.

The service also anticipates some lighting this weekend, Schweitzer said, and crews are standing ready if new fires start.

Environment Canada issued heat warnings stretching across B.C.’s southern Interior, inland sections of the north and central coasts, as well as the south coast and parts of Vancouver Island. The wildfire service warns the combination of high temperatures and low relative humidity will make fires even more intense.

© 2021 The Canadian Press

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Northern Canada may be a popular destination at the end of the world – CTV News

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TORONTO —
In the event of societal collapse, researchers suggest northern Canada may be “habitable” and could act as a lifeboat, but that other countries are better suited for survival.

The researchers found that Earth is in a “perilous state” due to rapid population growth and an energy consuming society that has altered the Earth’s system and biosphere. They say that societal collapse could happen in various forms, including economic collapse, worsening climate catastrophe, a pandemic worse than COVID-19, or another mass extinction event, which the researchers say is already underway.

The goal of the study, published in the journal Sustainability on July 21, was to create a shortlist of nations that could host survivors in the event of a societal collapse, where civilization could start over. The researchers evaluated the land, how much was available and its quality, how easy or difficult it is to travel to the country, available renewable resources, climate and agriculture, to determine where it would be best to survive the end of the world.

Islands with low population density, particularly those with distinct seasonal changes, fared the best with New Zealand topping the list. Iceland, U.K., Australia (specifically Tasmania) and Ireland made up the rest of the shortlist where it would be best for society to restart after a collapse.

Northern Canada, while not on the shortlist, could act as a “lifeboat” in the event of societal collapse due to climate change and extreme temperatures, but survival would rely on maintaining agriculture and renewable energy sources to keep the population alive.

The researchers showed that the shortlisted countries had strong renewable energy sources, were in temperate climates, and have plenty of agricultural land and space for growth. In the case of Iceland, where suitable land for livestock is not in abundance, this downside is offset by fisheries and the island’s wealth of renewable resources, of which geothermal resources have already been widely developed.

While this may give Canadians living in northern regions a chance to breathe a sigh of relief, there are still zombie fires to contend with as climate change warms the north and shortens winters.

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Coronavirus: What's happening in Canada and around the world – CBC.ca

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The latest:

Health authorities in Thailand are racing to set up a large field hospital in a cargo building at one of Bangkok’s airports as the country reports record numbers of coronavirus cases and deaths.

Other field hospitals are already in use in the capital after it ran out of hospital facilities for thousands of infected residents. Workers rushed to finish the 1,800-bed hospital at Don Mueang International Airport, where beds made from cardboard box materials are laid out with mattresses and pillows.

The airport has had little use because almost all domestic flights were cancelled two weeks ago. The field hospital is expected to be ready for patients in two weeks.

The quick spread of the delta variant also led neighbouring Cambodia to seal its border with Thailand on Thursday and order a lockdown and movement restrictions in eight provinces.

-From The Associated Press, last updated at 6:30 a.m. ET


What’s happening in Canada

WATCH | Get the latest on Alberta’s plan to ease restrictions: 

Alberta will be pulling back on requirements for COVID-19 testing, contact tracing and quarantines, despite rising cases in the province. 2:05


What’s happening around the world

Spain’s head coach David Martin Lozano, left, is interviewed under COVID-19 precautions after a win over Serbia in a preliminary round men’s water polo match at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo on Sunday. (Mark Humphrey/The Associated Press)

As of early Thursday morning, more than 196 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, according to Johns Hopkins University. More than 4.1 million deaths had been reported.

In the Asia-Pacific region, Tokyo reported 3,865 new cases on Thursday, up from 3,177 on Wednesday and double the number it had a week ago. Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Katunobu Kato told reporters the new cases are soaring not only in the Tokyo area but also across the country. He said Japan has never experienced an expansion of infections of this magnitude.

The World Health Organization’s Africa director says the continent of 1.3 billion people is entering an “encouraging phase after a bleak June” as supplies of COVID-19 vaccines increase. But Matshidiso Moeti told reporters on Thursday that just 10 per cent of the doses needed to vaccinate 30 per cent of Africa’s population by the end of 2021 have arrived. Some 82 million doses have arrived in Africa so far, while 820 million are needed.

A health worker administers a dose of the Janssen Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine in Dakar on Wednesday. Senegal is seeing an uptick in cases, sparking worry among health-care workers. (Leo Correa/The Associated Press)

Less than two per cent of Africa’s population has been fully vaccinated, and the more infectious delta variant is driving a deadly resurgence of cases.

“There’s a light at the end of the tunnel on vaccine deliveries to Africa but it must not be snuffed out again,” Moeti said. 

In the Americas, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said on Wednesday that 66.6 per cent of U.S. counties had transmission rates of COVID-19 high enough to warrant indoor masking and should immediately resume the policy.

COVID-19 continues to inflict a devastating toll on the Americas, with Argentina, Colombia, Cuba, Ecuador and Paraguay among the countries with the world’s highest weekly death rates, the Pan American Health Organization said.

In the Middle East, Iran on Wednesday reported 33,817 new cases of COVID-19 and 303 additional deaths. The country, which has been hit hard by COVID-19, is experiencing yet another surge in cases.

In Europe, Spain’s prime minister said existing measures to protect the most vulnerable from the pandemic’s economic fallout will be prolonged until the end of October.

Spain, one of the countries that was hardest hit at the beginning of the health emergency, has extended subsidies for the unemployed and furloughs for companies that have gone out of business to try to cushion an economic drop of 11 per cent of its gross domestic product in 2020.

-From The Associated Press, Reuters and CBC News, last updated at 11:15 a.m. ET

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