Less than two weeks before Johnson & Johnson recalled thousands of bottles of Baby Powder for possible asbestos contamination, the company’s chief executive officer testified under oath that he believed the product to be free of the cancer-causing mineral.
“We unequivocally believe that our talc and our Baby Powder does not contain asbestos,” Alex Gorsky stated on October 3rd, according to Reuters.
The sworn testimony came during a deposition in a talcum powder lawsuit filed on behalf of a retired Indiana college professor who claims asbestos-tainted Baby Powder caused his cancer.
Citing “thousands of tests and studies”, Gorsky insisted he was “not aware of our Baby Powder or talc containing asbestos.”
Thirteen days later, on October 16th, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) informed Johnson & Johnson that tests had detected traces of asbestos in Baby Powder. The company recalled more than 33,000 bottles of Baby Powder just two days later.
The findings come as the healthcare products giant faces thousands of talcum powder lawsuits in courts across the United States that claim asbestos-tainted Baby Powder caused ovarian cancer or mesothelioma.
According to Johnson & Johnson, Gorsky had no knowledge of the FDA test results when he testified on October 3rd. On September 20th, the FDA apparently informed Johnson & Johnson that another Baby Powder test hadn’t turned up any asbestos. Testing conducted by the agency in 2010 produced similar results.
Elizabeth Burch, a product liability expert at the University of Georgia School of Law suggested the FDA’s most recent findings will make it much harder for Gorsky, or anyone else at Johnson & Johnson, to continue saying that they “believe” the company’s talc-based powders are free from asbestos.
The asbestos findings could also lend credence to plaintiffs’ claims.
Last December, Reuters reported that Johnson & Johnson raw talc and finished powders had, in fact, periodically tested positive for traces of asbestos since the 1970s. While the tests concerned many at Johnson & Johnson, internal documents suggest they opted not to warn consumers or regulators out of concern that asbestos findings would undermine the company’s “caring” image.
Since then, Johnson & Johnson has received subpoenas from the U.S. Justice Department and U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission related to asbestos and talcum powder. According to Reuters, the talcum powder probes include a grand jury investigation.
During the October 3rd deposition, Gorsky maintained that previous asbestos findings hadn’t held up under scrutiny and that the tests were subsequently found to be “incomplete or inaccurate.”
Last week, Johnson & Johnson characterized the FDA’s asbestos findings as “highly unusual” and suggested the samples may have come from counterfeit bottles. But just hours later, the FDA stated it was unaware of “any records pointing to counterfeit Johnson’s Baby Powder in the U.S. market.”