Last Friday, Johnson & Johnson announced a recall of 33,000 bottles of Johnson's Baby Powder after FDA tests detected asbestos in a bottle of the powder.
Asbestos is a mineral fiber that occurs in rock and soil. Due to its heat resistance, asbestos has been used in a variety of construction materials like insulation, as well as a fire retardant. Exposure to asbestos increases the risk of developing lung disease. The three major health issues associated with asbestos exposure are lung cancer, asbestosis (a serious, non-cancer disease of the lungs), and mesothelioma (a rare form of cancer found in the lining of the lung, chest, abdomen, and heart). The greater the exposure to asbestos, the greater the chance of developing adverse health effects.
The main ingredient in baby powder is talcum powder, or talc, which is a naturally occurring mineral that occurs in rock and soil, the same environments where asbestos can be found. Talc is a particularly soft mineral and excellent at absorbing moisture (the very reason for its use in products such as baby powder). However, this characteristic also makes it possible for the talc to absorb other minerals in the groundwater, such as asbestos. Due to this risk of contamination, the FDA recommends frequent testing of talc products, as well as inspecting talc mining sites.
Last year, a Missouri jury awarded $4.69 billion to a group of 22 women and their families who claimed that the use of Johnson & Johnson baby powder led to their ovarian cancers. This verdict included $4.14 billion in punitive damages and $550 million in compensatory damages. The punitive damages stemmed from findings that demonstrated Johnson & Johnson has known for decades about the risk of asbestos contamination in its talc but worked to keep this information from the public.
Another significant verdict against the pharmaceutical company was handed down earlier this year. A case in Oklahoma examined the drug maker's role in the opioid crisis within the state. The court found that Johnson & Johnson and subsidiaries engaged in "misleading marketing and promotion of opioids ... compromised the health and safety of thousands of Oklahomans."
People who have purchased a bottle of Johnson's Baby Powder from the affected batch (Lot #22318RB) should stop using it, according to Johnson & Johnson. The company is issuing refunds for consumers who purchased the powder. More information can be found on the FDA announcement about the recall.