Johnson & Johnson has made it perfectly clear that it has no intention of publicly acknowledging the possibility that its Baby Powder product may contain asbestos. In what may be one of the best demonstrations of “deny, deny, deny” ever seen, the J&J refrain can almost be recited from memory at this point: “Johnson’s Baby Powder does not contain asbestos or cause cancer.” Even when faced with bombshell revelations of misconduct based on its own internal communications, the corporation’s strategy has been to deny the report and all associated evidence.
Then came last month’s recall. Tens of thousands of 22-ounce bottles of Johnson’s Baby Powder were pulled from retail shelves when one lot of the product tested positive for asbestos contamination. Seeing no way to spin something so public as a recall, the company’s response was only to state that none of their other Baby Powder products were being recalled and those were going to stay on shelves. For a public that is growing increasingly weary of a company once viewed as one of the most wholesome in the world, the move rang as hollow as a pilot seeking to reassure passengers during an engine failure by saying that the other engine was working perfectly well.
In yet another bombshell revelation, however, Reuters is now reporting that the lab that discovered the asbestos that led to last month’s recall was run by an expert witness on Johnson & Johnson’s own payroll. Andreas Saldivar, the laboratory director for AMA Analytical Services Inc, has been paid by J&J on numerous occasions to serve as an expert witness in its defense of its talc-based powder products. In May 2018, Saldivar’s testimony was used to weaken historical testing results as he affirmed that tests he ran for the FDA in 2010 yielded no asbestos in the sample.
Last month, however, Saldivar’s lab tested an unmarked sample of talc powder being used for cosmetic purposes. The sample returned a positive asbestos result and was later identified as Johnson’s Baby Powder.
J&J’s PR machine sprung into nearly immediate action. Statements by Johnson & Johnson officials indicated that other labs that tested samples from the same bottle and lot as Saldivar’s test failed to find asbestos. FDA officials, however, defended the finding and said that it could be possible for contaminants to be spread out throughout a sample in various concentrations. According to the federal agency, one scoop of powder could be removed from a bottle that could contain asbestos and no evidence of the carcinogen could be found in the very next scoop.
While J&J will undoubtedly latch onto such a possibility to inject doubt into the situation, “This particular scoop of Baby Powder does not contain asbestos or cause cancer, but others might” just doesn’t have the same ring to it, does it?