Johnson & Johnson said it has launched a “rigorous, thorough investigation” © 123RF
Johnson & Johnson said it has launched a “rigorous, thorough investigation” © 123RF

Johnson & Johnson recalls baby powder over asbestos concerns

posted by Lucy Patchett
24 October 2019

Johnson & Johnson has launched a voluntary recall of a batch of its baby powder in the US after tests found traces of asbestos. 

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) discovered “sub-trace levels” of chrysotile fibres – a type of asbestos which has been linked to cancer – in a single bottle of baby powder purchased from an online retailer. 

According to the FDA, if talc mining sites are not selected carefully and steps are not taken to purify the talc ore sufficiently, the talc may be contaminated with asbestos.

Johnson & Johnson said it had initiated a “rigorous, thorough investigation” into the matter and has recalled bottles from the same batch as the tested sample.

According to the Independent, around 33,000 bottles are in the batch subject to the recall.

The consumer goods firm said it was working with the FDA to “determine the integrity of the tested sample, and the validity of the test results”. 

The company could not confirm if the tested product had been a counterfeit or if the sample tested by the FDA had been taken from a bottle with an intact seal.

“Years of testing, including the FDA’s own testing on prior occasions – and as recently as last month – found no asbestos,” it said in a statement. 

“Our talc comes from ore sources confirmed to meet our stringent specifications that exceed industry standards. Not only do we and our suppliers routinely test to ensure our talc does not contain asbestos; our talc has also been tested and confirmed to be asbestos-free by a range of independent laboratories, universities and global health authorities.”

Ned Sharpless, acting commissioner at the FDA, said: “The FDA continues to test cosmetic products that contain talc for the presence of asbestos to protect Americans from potential health risks.”

The FDA has advised customers who have Johnson & Johnson baby powder with the batch number #22318RB to stop using it immediately. However, it added that it is “not aware of any adverse events” relating to exposure to the batch. 

According to the BBC, over the years, Johnson & Johnson has faced as many as 13,000 lawsuits over contamination with asbestos of its talc-based products. 

In December 2018, Reuters alleged the company had known about asbestos contaminating its talcum powder products for decades, and that the firm’s own internal tests had sometimes found small amounts of asbestos in its raw talc and finished powders.

Reuters said most of Johnson & Johnson’s tests did not find asbestos, but that it did not disclose to regulators which tests had discovered traces.

Lawyers for Johnson & Johnson dismissed the allegations, telling Reuters: “The scientific consensus is that the talc used in talc-based body powders does not cause cancer, regardless of what is in that talc.

“This is true even if – and it does not – Johnson & Johnson’s cosmetic talc had ever contained minute, undetectable amounts of asbestos.”

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