Johnson & Johnson recently recalled 33,000 bottles of its baby powder after the FDA determined one bottle contained asbestos. The recall comes after years of claiming its products are asbestos-free and safe for consumers to use without risk of exposure to dangerous carcinogens.
This is the first time the company has removed baby powder from the market due to asbestos concerns. The recall affects Johnson & Johnson’s brand baby power sourced from China and distributed in 2018.
Recall Could Undermine Johnson & Johnson Courtroom Claims that Products are Safe
There are currently more than 100,000 lawsuits in progress against Johnson & Johnson. Fifteen thousand of those are related to its line of talc-based powder products.
According to claims, users of Johnson & Johnson powder products developed cancer due to their exposure to talc containing asbestos particles. Some users were diagnosed with mesothelioma, a rare cancer linked directly to asbestos exposure, while others developed ovarian cancer. Though it has settled some claims, it continues to claim its powders are safe and asbestos-free. This recall could undermine those claims.
According to David Noll, a law professor at Rutgers University speaking to the New York Times about the recall, “I can’t imagine an attorney for Johnson & Johnson standing up in front of a jury now and saying with a straight face that the product is safe.”
There is speculation the latest developments could have a significant negative impact on consumer trust of the brand.
FDA Identifies Traces of Chrysotile Asbestos in J&J Baby Powder
The recall came after the FDA discovered trace amounts of chrysotile asbestos in the same bottles it purchased from an online retailer. Johnson & Johnson was notified by the FDA on October 17, 2019, and recalled all bottles in that same lot (22318RB) due to what it called “an abundance of caution.”
The FDA issued its warning to consumers with bottles from that lot to stop using them immediately.
Despite the recall, Johnson & Johnson continues to deny that its products cause cancer. According to the company, there have been thousands of tests conducted on consumer talc products throughout the last four decades that prove these products do not contain asbestos. Additionally, the company called the FDA’s testing measures into question and stated in response to the test results that it is working with the agency regarding the integrity of the tested sample and to determine if the results of the test were valid.
The company also emphasized that the level of asbestos detected was just a fraction of 1 percent of the sample. However, according to US health agencies, no level of exposure to asbestos is safe.
Johnson & Johnson’s vice president of women’s health, Dr. Susan Nicholson, called the test results “an extremely unusual finding” in a conference call with investors the day after the company was notified of the FDA findings. She also told them that the presence of asbestos in the FDA-tested power was inconsistent with the testing the company has done in-house so far.
The FDA announced it stands by the validity of its testing methods and the result of the test.
Talc Lawsuits Continue to Mount against Johnson & Johnson
The FDA’s discovery is likely to affect the lawsuits filed against the company. Analysts previously estimated the lawsuits could cost Johnson & Johnson as much as $10 billion, but the recall could lead to even higher settlements or damage awards from juries.
According to plaintiffs in the cases, Johnson & Johnson has been aware of the risk caused by their products but has failed to warn consumers, instead denying its products contain asbestos. In 2018, a New York Times investigation turned up internal memos and reports at the company showing that potential asbestos contamination has been a concern within the company for more than five decades.
The US Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission have also launched investigations against the company regarding asbestos contamination.