New Delhi: Drug inspectors in Rajasthan claim to have found a cancer-causing substance in the popular Johnson & Johnson ‘No More Tears’ baby shampoo, bringing yet another product of the US pharmaceutical giant under scrutiny over health concerns and reviving a controversy it claimed to have settled five years ago.
According to a notice released by the Rajasthan drug controller Sunday, and sent to authorities across the country, two batches of the shampoo have been found to be contaminated with formaldehyde.
Formaldehyde has been identified as a carcinogen, which is a substance that promotes the formation of cancer in the body.
Both batches were manufactured at Johnson & Johnson’s facility at Baddi, Himachal Pradesh.
“We have found a higher amount [than stated by the company] of formaldehyde in J&J’s shampoos and the company has been informed about the abnormality,” Rajasthan drug controller Raja Ram Sharma told ThePrint.
In the notice, the drug controller has called on states to take shampoo bottles from the tainted batches off the shelves immediately.
“Particulars of the samples declared as not of standard quality on test/analysis are given below for ensuring that the stocks of these drugs are not consumed anymore and appropriate safeguard to the consumers is provided by withdrawing the available stock…” the notice added.
Approached by ThePrint for comment, a Johnson & Johnson spokesperson disputed the findings.
“Earlier this year, representatives of the drug controller in Jaipur, Rajasthan, drew samples of Johnson’s baby shampoo for testing and we fully co-operated during the process,” the spokesperson said.
“We do not accept the interim results given to us… The government did not disclose the test methods, details or any quantitative findings,” the spokesperson added.
“This is concerning, especially when there is no prescribed test method or requirement for testing formaldehyde in shampoo under the applicable standards. We have confirmed to the Indian authorities that we do not add formaldehyde as an ingredient in our shampoo nor does Johnson’s baby shampoo contain any ingredient that can release formaldehyde over time,” the spokesperson said.
In 2014, the company had restructured the shampoo and dozens of other products after several consumers raised concerns about the presence of formaldehyde and another potentially harmful substance, 1,4-dioxane.
According to a January 2014 report in The New York Times, the company had promised at the time that “the products no longer contain [the] two potentially harmful chemicals, formaldehyde, and 1,4-dioxane, that have come under increasing scrutiny by consumers and environmental groups”.
“Johnson & Johnson has removed the preservatives that release formaldehyde, and said it has reduced the levels of 1,4-dioxane to very limited trace amounts, from one to four parts per million,” the report added.
Other products may come under scrutiny again
The controversy comes just a month after Johnson & Johnson resumed the production of its baby powder in India after government agencies ruled it free of asbestos, another cancer-causing substance.
The government had already started testing most of the company’s products — including shampoo and baby soap — when an investigation by news agency Reuters alleged the company was aware that “its talc powders, including the famous Baby Powder, contained cancer-causing asbestos but… hid the information from regulators and the public”.
Earlier this month, the Indian government had directed Johnson & Johnson to pay over Rs 74 lakh to a victim of the company’s faulty hip implants despite the company’s repeated claim that Indian laws do not contain any compensation provision.
The implants reportedly forced several recipients around the world to undergo subsequent surgery and left many injured.
With the latest finding, other products of the company are expected to come under scrutiny once again, the notice suggests.
“Please ensure about the quality of other batches and drugs of said manufacturers available in the market from time to time,” the Rajasthan drug controller said in the notice.
This report has been updated with the response of Johnson & Johnson.