Editorial credit: Sundry Photography / Shutterstock.com
The healthcare and pharmacy retailer CVS Health announced on Thursday, October 24, 2019 that it will be pulling all 22-ounce bottles of Johnson & Johnson’s (J&J) iconic product, Johnson’s Baby Powder®, from store shelves. In addition, CVS will be making the product unavailable for purchase online.
CVS’s move follows fast on the heels of an announcement last week from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which indicated that in a test of Johnson’s Baby Powder, it had discovered trace amounts of asbestos mixed in with the talc — Baby Powder’s primary ingredient.
In response to the FDA’s asbestos announcement, J&J issued a voluntary recall of 33,000 bottles of Baby Powder. Shares of J&J’s stock fell in value by 6% the same day, and the 15,000 asbestos-in-talc lawsuits against J&J gained quite a bit of momentum.
CVS, Walmart, Target, and Rite Aid Pull Baby Powder From Store Shelves
Following the public announcement from the FDA and the voluntary recall made by J&J, some retailers, in light of public outcry and panic, and fear of potentially injuring consumers, have made the decision to take the iconic powder off of store shelves.
Since CVS’s announcement, Walmart, Target, and Rite Aid have also joined in the decision to pull the product. Like CVS, these retailers have also made Johnson’s Baby Powder unavailable for purchase through their online stores.
Commenting on CVS’s move, J&J spokesman Ernie Knewitz said, "It's temporary ... They are doing it storewide because they don't have the resources to go through at the store level and check all the SKUs (stock keeping units), check all the lot numbers."
The recalls affect only 22-ounce bottles of Baby Powder. For now, all other size bottles will remain available for purchase. This decision reflects the bottle that tested positive for asbestos, which was a 22-ounce bottle associated with the batch number #22318RB.
Rather than checking each individual bottle for its batch number, retailers have simply decided to pull all 22-ounce bottles from store shelves.
15,000 Talc-Asbestos Lawsuits Await Their Day in Court
With the FDA’s positive test for asbestos in J&J’s iconic Baby Powder, a major blow has been delivered to the $360-Billion healthcare company, which has, for decades, repeated again and again that its talc and its Baby Powder were and are “safe” and “asbestos-free.”
Just last week, J&J CEO Alex Gorsky reiterated this: “We unequivocally believe that our talc and our baby powder does not contain asbestos.”
The problem is an unbridgeable difference between Gorsky’s word “believe” and the word the public wants to hear: “prove.” Now, suddenly, with FDA proof of asbestos contamination, which directly contradicts J&J’s claim to Baby Powder’s safety, more evidence can now be leveraged against J&J in plaintiff talcum powder lawsuits.
Such lawsuits against J&J continue to mount — a total that is now eclipsing 15,000. Many of the injured plaintiffs and/or their families are suing J&J for failure to warn about the possibility of asbestos contamination, a failure that ultimately led plaintiffs to get sick and develop diseases, including mesothelioma and other cancers.
It is alleged that repeated exposure to asbestos in Baby Powder — even a small amount — over a long period of time can cause a person to develop mesothelioma, a disease that has only one known cause: asbestos. The World Health Organization (WHO) and other health agencies have noted that there is “no safe level” of asbestos exposure.
Talc and Asbestos Lawsuits
For miners of talc, the softest mineral in the world, it can be extremely difficult to separate talc from asbestos, 2 natural minerals that occur together in nature. Due to this, no matter how careful talc miners and processing workers are, it is nearly impossible to make sure that talc is 100% asbestos-free.
Simply put, separating microscopic talc fibers from asbestos fibers is a very difficult and expensive task, which is why many consumers and advocacy groups have called on talc-based product makers to switch to a safer alternative, such as cornstarch.
For J&J, one of the world’s biggest suppliers of talc-based products, matters were made worse in winter 2018, when a Reuters investigation uncovered more damning information. Reuters discovered internal documents showing that J&J executives, researchers, and subsidiary companies had knowledge of its asbestos-tainted talc dating back to the late 1950s.
In spite of their knowledge, J&J decided to never warn federal officials, the public, or its workers. In the 6 decades that have passed since the 1950s, J&J has had ample opportunity to warn the public, alter its product, and own up to past oversights. The company never has.
Combine all of these factors and it is suddenly much easier to see why plaintiffs have been alleging for years that J&J’s Baby Powder causes cancer — and worse, that the company knew it. It is also the reason why many asbestos-tainted talc lawsuits have been successful.
In 2018, for example, J&J was ordered by a St. Louis jury to pay $4.69 Billion to a group of 22 women who alleged the company’s talcum powder was the cause of their cancer. J&J appealed the verdict and lost.
As America’s largest retailers plan for a future without talc-based baby powder on store shelves, the country waits to see if J&J will finally step forward and acknowledge the dangerous public-health crisis it has played a key role in for so long.