Johnson & Johnson has recalled 33,000 bottles of baby powder after the Food and Drug Administration found evidence of asbestos contamination in a single bottle purchased online.
The company announced the recall on October 18. This is the first time the company has actually recalled the product, despite 15,000 lawsuits from people who say Johnson & Johnson’s talc-based products caused them to develop cancers ranging from mesothelioma to ovarian cancer. However, there is evidence that the company may have known it was poisoning people for decades.
In 2018, a New York Times article reported that a Johnson & Johnson executive allegedly sent around a memo voicing concerns about baby powder contamination in 1971, which led to 40 years of the company reportedly downplaying and denying such contamination. Now, David Noll, a law professor at Rutgers University tells the Times it will most likely be impossible for the company to keep up that pretense in light of the FDA’s findings and 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,” Mr. Noll said. He added that “if people come to associate the company’s signature product with deadly diseases, there will be huge spillover effects for its ability to market other products.”
The recall was spurred by the discovery of chrysotile asbestos in a bottle of baby powder sourced from China and purchased online. The company learned of the results on October 17 and recalled all bottles from lot number 22318RB the next day, though company officials argued it was not even that much asbestos:
“Johnson & Johnson officials emphasized on Friday that the level of asbestos detected was very low, just a fraction of 1 percent of the sample. United States health agencies, however, say there is no known safe level of exposure to asbestos.”
The pending lawsuits could cost Johnson & Johnson as much as $10 billion, not to mention the fact that many will probably no longer trust any products made by a company that may have encouraged the general public to sprinkle asbestos on naked babies for 40 years.