Johnson & Johnson Agrees To Stop Selling Baby Powder Due To Asbestos Contamination

Johnson & Johnson baby powder. (CBS News photo)

Photo: CBS News

Using the “cover” of the COVID-19 crisis, one of the largest healthcare product companies in the world decided to stop selling in the U.S. and Canada its “signature” talc-based baby powder product due to concerns over whether it was contaminated with toxic asbestos that thousands of women alleged caused their ovarian cancer.  The company said it will still sell the product in other markets, but chose to discontinue sales here rather than add a safety warning because they stand by the safety of the product.  Sales of baby powder have been declining, but its decision is seen as “a huge concession for Johnson & Johnson, which has for more than a century promoted the powder as pure and gentle enough for babies,” The New York Times reported.

Why This Matters:  This is another case of a company knowing that their product contained harmful chemicals and selling it anyway — like the oil companies that knew about the greenhouse gas effect of burning petroleum.  Internal memos and reports showed that the company had been concerned for at least 50 years about the possibility of traces of asbestos in its talc as well as the links of the chemical to cancer.  They now sell only corn-starched based powder instead.  Good.

Many Women Complained

As of March, there were 19,400 lawsuits against J&J and the company is going to have to defend the talc’s safety — a judge in one of the pending cases will allow expert witnesses called by the plaintiff’s to testify overruling J&J’s efforts to block them.  The record in the litigation so far is a mixed bag — J&J has lost some big cases but prevailed in others.  The lawsuits will still go forward and it is unclear how the company’s decision to stop selling the product will impact them.  The women suing the company expressed relief at the company’s decision.   The asbestos issue was not going away.  As we reported last October, J&J was forced to recall 33,000 bottles of baby powder in the United States after the Food and Drug Administration found trace amounts of asbestos, a known carcinogen, in samples taken from a bottle purchased online.

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