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After attempting to defend the safety of Johnson’s Baby Powder for years in on-going lawsuits filed by individuals diagnosed with cancer following use of the talc-based powder, Johnson & Johnson announced last week that it is recalling 33,000 bottles due to the risk of asbestos contamination.
The Baby Powder recall was issued on October 18, after FDA testing revealed the presence of sub-trace levels of chrysotile asbestos contamination.
The asbestos was detected in a bottle purchased from an online retailer, upending years of claims made by Johnson & Johnson that talc contained in Johnson’s Baby Powder and Shower-to-Shower powder do not contain the cancer-causing substance.
“I understand today’s recall may be concerning to all those individuals who may have used the affected lot of baby powder. I want to assure everyone that the agency takes these concerns seriously and that we are committed to our mandate of protecting the public health,” Acting FDA Commissioner Ned Sharpless said in a press release. “The FDA continues to test cosmetic products that contain talc for the presence of asbestos to protect Americans from potential health risks.”
The testing was part of an FDA effort to survey cosmetic products for asbestos, which has been ongoing since 2018. The agency tested two samples of Johnson’s Baby Powder. One contained asbestos and the other did not, raising questions about how widespread the problem of asbestos in Baby Powder may be.
The FDA has published a consumer webpage, which updates the products it has found to contain asbestos as part of the survey. Previously, the agency has issued warnings regarding certain products sold at Claire’s and Beauty Plus Global.
Johnson & Johnson has attempted to downplay the discovery, pointing out in their recall notice that it cannot confirm whether there was cross-contamination, whether the sample came from a bottle with an intact seal or whether the product was a counterfeit. However, nothing the FDA has stated suggests any of those excuses are a likely possibility. In its press release, the FDA stated it stands by the quality of its testing and results.
The Baby Powder recall impacts bottles from lot# 22318RB, which can be found on the back of the bottle, directly underneath the cap. However, it raises questions and concerns about the safety of talcum powder distributed by Johnson & Johnson for years, which the manufacturer has previously maintained never contained asbestos.
Talcum Powder Litigation
Johnson & Johnson faces about 13,000 Baby Powder lawsuits and Shower-to-Shower lawsuits, each involving allegations that the talcum powder products caused the development of cancer, including the asbestos-linked disease mesothelioma, as well as ovarian cancer among women who applied the product around their genitals for years.
The company also faces a criminal probe into what it knew about asbestos being in its talcum powder products and when it knew it.
Just last month, a California jury ordered the company to pay $40 million in a trial brought on behalf of a woman diagnosed with mesothelioma after use of Johnson & Johnson talc products.
Last year, a Missouri jury returned a landmark $4.7 billion verdict for 22 women diagnosed with ovarian cancer following regular exposure to Johnson & Johnson talcum powder, and several other trials have resulted in multi-million dollar damage awards in various different state courts.
Some internal documents revealed during the litigation and media investigations suggest Johnson & Johnson may have known about the potential presence of asbestos in its products since the 1950s, but failed to warn regulators or consumers.
Following the announcement of this new recall, the company’s stock fell 4% amid rising investor concerns over the ramifications of this asbestos discovery on the remaining talcum powder lawsuits. That wiped out about $16 billion of the company’s value.
Exposure to asbestos fibers has been linked to a number of forms of respiratory illnesses and cancer, such as mesothelioma, lung cancer, and asbestosis.
Mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer, where the only known cause is asbestos exposure. As a result of a long latency period of between 20 and 40 years between exposure to asbestos and diagnosis, the cancer is often at a very advanced stage by the time it is discovered and usually results in death.
Johnson & Johnson has rested most of their legal defense strategy on a motion to exclude plaintiffs’ expert witnesses in the federal talcum powder litigation, arguing that the opinions offered by several independent scientists about the link between talcum powder and cancer is not sufficiently reliable for plaintiffs to use at trial.
The U.S. District Judge presiding over the litigation is expected to rule on the company’s motion in the coming months, which may result in a number of bellwether trials being scheduled before juries over the next year, if Johnson & Johnson is unable to dismiss the claims or fails to reach talcum powder settlements with plaintiffs who have been diagnosed with cancer.