Johnson and Johnson baby shampoos. | Commons
Johnson and Johnson baby shampoos. | Commons
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New Delhi: The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued an alert for American consumers to not use Johnson & Johnson baby powder product from one particular lot, which tested positive for asbestos — known to be a cancer-causing substance.

Acting on the alert, the American multinational, which has long been facing similar charges but always insisted its products were safe, has for the first time recalled the baby powder — only the affected batch — from the US market.

It is also the first time that the FDA has announced a finding of asbestos in the iconic brand’s talcum powder for babies, used by millions of people across the world.

“A sample from this lot was found to contain chrysotile fibers, a type of asbestos,” FDA said in an alert issued in the US. “…consumers who have this lot of baby powder should stop using it.”

Asbestos has been linked to a rare type of cancer called mesothelioma.

Tests conducted in India in 2018 had called it ‘asbestos-free’

J&J — an over 130-year-old healthcare conglomerate — has already been slapped with over 15,000 lawsuits for the alleged connection of its talcum powder product to cancer.

In December 2018, the company came under the scanner of American health regulators after an investigation by Reuters alleged that Johnson & Johnson was aware that its talc powders, including the baby powder, contained cancer-causing asbestos.

The same month, the Drug Controller General of India — the apex body to regulate quality of cosmetics and drugs in India — ordered the company to halt the manufacture of the Johnson & Johnson baby powder at its Mumbai and Himachal Pradesh plants to test the raw material for safety.

However, in March this year, the company resumed the production and published an advertisement in various national and regional newspapers, announcing: “Your Johnson’s baby powder is pure, safe & gentle. Government lab tests confirm Johnson’s baby powder is asbestos-free.”

Also read: Investigation alleges J&J knew its powders have cancer-causing asbestos but hid the info

Product taken off US market

Acting on the FDA alert, J&J recalled around 33,000 bottles of baby powder from the US market.

The results from the J&J’s sample are part of FDA’s ongoing survey of cosmetic products for asbestos. “This survey started in 2018 and involves the testing of about 50 cosmetic products,” it said in a statement.

While FDA has found asbestos in a specific lot, #22318RB, it clarified that, “As part of the same survey of cosmetic products, a second Johnson’s Baby Powder sample from a different lot tested negative for asbestos. That sample came from Lot #00918RA.”

Recalling the Johnson & Johnson baby powder batch, the company said in an official announcement: “If you or someone you provide care for owns a bottle of Johnson’s Baby Powder Lot #22318RB, you are advised to discontinue use of the product.”

The company’s statement posted on the FDA website said it has a “rigorous testing standard in place to ensure its cosmetic talc is safe and years of testing, including the FDA’s own testing on prior occasions — and as recently as last month — found no asbestos”.

It added: “Thousands of tests over the past 40 years repeatedly confirm that our consumer talc products do not contain asbestos. Not only do we and our suppliers routinely test to ensure our talc does not contain asbestos, our talc has also been tested and confirmed to be asbestos-free by a range of independent laboratories, universities and global health authorities.”

Also read: Johnson & Johnson directed to pay Rs 25 lakh each to 67 patients for faulty hip implants

Full results by December 

The FDA expects to issue the full results of its current set of cosmetics testing by the end of the year.

“These results will include results from cosmetic products that have tested negative, as well as positive. The FDA has been releasing positive results on an ongoing basis to alert consumers to stop using those products.”

The FDA has also been, alongside, informing individual manufacturers about their tested products that were found to be negative for asbestos as data are finalised.

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