In mid-October, Johnson & Johnson announced a voluntary recall of some 33,000 bottles of its Baby Powder after the FDA discovered trace amounts of asbestos in a bottle bought online. That was the first time J&J had recalled the product, despite thousands of legal claims that the company’s talc-based products have been tainted with asbestos and caused mesothelioma or ovarian cancers.
It was also the first time a U.S. regulator reported finding asbestos in the product.
Although only a single lot of baby powder was recalled, major retailers wasted no time in pulling either all of the product or all 22-ounce bottles from shelves. Four major retailers, including Target, Walmart, CVS and Rite Aid, pulled the products out of an abundance of caution. Other retailers are expected to do the same.
This is important because, if the product is contaminated, retailers are at some legal risk. Under the law of product liability, anyone in the supply chain could potentially be held liable for products that harm consumers.
According to J&J, any product removed from shelves and returned to the company will be destroyed and not resold.
J&J insists that its talc-based products contain no asbestos and are safe to use. However, Reuters reported last year that the company has known since at least 1971 that some of the products sometimes contained asbestos and failed to warn the public or notify regulators.
J&J now says the FDA test was inaccurate
On Oct. 29, J&J announced that it had hired other labs to re-test the bottle of baby powder the FDA found to contain asbestos. Those labs found no asbestos in the bottle or other bottles from the same lot. Therefore, it is attempting to cast doubt on the FDA’s findings.
Unfortunately for J&J, the lab that initially found the asbestos for the FDA was under contract, and it is run by one of J&J’s own expert witnesses.
According to Reuters, the FDA test was performed by AMA Analytical Services, Inc. The laboratory director for AMA has, on several occasions, served as a defense expert in asbestos-talc cases.
Now, J&J needs to discredit the positive test result without simultaneously discrediting its own expert witness.
FDA officials told Reuters they stand by AMA’s result. They explain the varying results by pointing out that contaminants like asbestos are unlikely to be evenly dispersed throughout the talc products and by saying that different testing methods sometimes yield different results.
There is no safe level of asbestos exposure. Over 16,000 plaintiffs have sued J&J, claiming that asbestos contamination in its talc products caused cancer when used as intended for routine hygiene.