CVS, Wal-Mart, and Rite-Aid are removing 22-ounce bottles of Johnson’s Baby Powder from store shelves around the country, amid concerns that the products could be contaminated with cancer-causing asbestos.
Last Friday, Johnson & Johnson confirmed that the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) had detected sub-traces of asbestos in a single bottle of the talc-based powder purchased online. The discovery prompted the healthcare products giant to recall 33,000 bottles of Johnson’s Baby Powder sold in the United States.
“CVS Pharmacy is complying with Johnson & Johnson’s voluntary recall of Johnson’s Baby Powder 22 oz. and is removing this product from all stores and from CVS.com,” a company spokesperson said in a statement to CNBC. “We also initiated a ‘Do Not Sell’ register prompt in our stores to prevent the sale of this item during the product removal process.”
The retailer is also warning customers to stop using the affected Johnson’s Baby Powder products and return the bottles to CVS for a refund.
Rite-Aid has taken similar steps, as has Wal-Mart, the world’s largest retailer.
Johnson & Johnson has characterized the Baby Powder recall as precautionary and continues to maintain that its talc-based powders are safe. In a statement last week, the company suggested the bottle tested by the FDA could have been counterfeit, but the agency has since disputed that contention.
The asbestos findings couldn’t come at a worse time for Johnson & Johnson, which is currently defending thousands of talcum powder lawsuits that blame Baby Powder for causing ovarian cancer or mesothelioma. So far, verdicts in these cases have been mixed, with plaintiffs winning around a dozen, Johnson & Johnson prevailing in 10, and juries deadlocking in several others. Johnson & Johnson has also had success appealing a number of verdicts, and continues working to have others overturned.
Earlier this week, one legal expert told Reuters that the asbestos findings could lend credence to plaintiff’s claims and would likely make it more difficult for company officials to testify that they believe Johnson’s Baby Powder to be asbestos-free.
Attorneys representing plaintiffs in the massive talcum powder litigation now underway in New Jersey federal court have asked Johnson & Johnson to provide “documents, data and information” related to the FDA’s tests. According to Law.com, they’ve also filed a Freedom of Information Request with the FDA.
The presiding judge is currently reviewing motions on expert evidence. In a letter to the court, plaintiffs’ co-counsel noted that the talc used to manufacture the recalled lot is the same used for all Johnson’s Baby Powder products since 2003. In light of the asbestos discovery, they requested permission to supplement their briefing and provide additional evidence.
“The FDA’s findings of asbestos in Johnson’s Baby Powder support the positions taken by the plaintiffs’ committee and our experts throughout this process, and contradict the ongoing assertions of the company and its counsel,” an attorney stated in an email to Law.com. “We view the FDA’s actions and comments to be highly relevant to the litigation and worthy of consideration by the court.”