After months of vehement denials over the presence of asbestos in the talc used in Johnson & Johnson’s Baby Powder, certain bottles of the product have been removed from store shelves over concerns of contamination with…asbestos. The move is the latest development in a saga that has torched the reputation of a company that has staked much of that reputation on wholesomeness and providing goods that are safe for the whole family; including its youngest and most vulnerable members.
J&J has been dogged by claims of asbestos-linked mesothelioma tied to the use of its talc products since early last year. A New Jersey man and his wife were awarded some $37 million in compensatory damages when a jury found Johnson’s Baby Powder responsible for his development of the disease. Since then, the track record for talc-based mesothelioma lawsuits has been mixed. However, Johnson & Johnson has steadfastly and defiantly gone on the record with every decision to reiterate its assertion that its product does not contain asbestos.
Then came January of 2019. A Reuters investigative report turned J&J’s denials on their heads when it found that not only did Johnson’s Baby Powder contain asbestos, but the corporation knew about it all along and had gone to extraordinary lengths to conceal that information from regulators and the general public. Lab tests dated back to the 1970s showed asbestos levels in Johnson & Johnson talc categorized as “rather high” and historical analysis indicated that the product was testing positive for the presence of asbestos well into the early 2000s.
Johnson and Johnson’s response to the report was stunning. Vice President of global media relations Ernie Knewitz emailed Reuters and stated that the report was “a calculated attempt to distract from the fact that thousands of independent tests prove our talc does not contain asbestos or cause cancer. Any suggestion that Johnson & Johnson knew or hid information about the safety of talc is false.” The publication of the report erased $40 billion in market value from the world’s largest healthcare goods manufacturer in one day.
J&J’s constant denials also caught the eye of the Department of Justice. The federal agency issued the corporation a number of subpoenas in February of last year and Bloomberg revealed this past summer that a grand jury had been convened to consider opening a criminal probe into Johnson & Johnson’s behavior.
The current recall affects only 22-ounce bottles of Baby Powder, as FDA tests detected asbestos in one lot of 33,000 bottles of the product. CVS, Rite Aid, and Walgreen’s have removed all 22-ounce bottles of Johnson’s Baby Powder from their shelves while Walmart appears to have only removed bottles directly associated with the affected lot. Rite Aid, on the other hand, is requiring its stores to remove all 22-ounce products from their shelves and have instructed staff to store the powder “in a secure location” while also applying “a point of sale system block for this product to prevent it from being sold.”