CVS Health, Rite Aid, and Walmart are removing all 22-ounce bottles of Johnson & Johnson baby powder from stores due to possible asbestos contamination. The move comes as J&J issued a baby powder recall in response to FDA testing that found asbestos in a bottle purchased online.
The timing could not be worse for J&J as it battles thousands of lawsuits claiming its iconic baby powder contains asbestos and causes cancer. Sanders Phillips Grossman attorney Danielle Mason, who heads the firm’s talcum powder litigation, says the FDA’s finding is a vindication of her work.
“This is further evidence that J&J misled women about the safety of its talc products,” said Danielle. “Just thirteen days before the FDA’s bombshell finding, J&J’s CEO testified that the company’s baby powder does not contain asbestos. Even after the news came out, they said that the finding was inconsistent with their own testing, but based on the evidence I’ve seen, it is completely consistent.”
In addition to the legal implications of the recall, the recall promises to have negative financial implications for J&J. Walmart is the largest retailer in the world, while CVS and Rite Aid are two of the three biggest pharmacies in the U.S. CVS, which has more than 9,900 locations worldwide, encouraged customers to halt use of the affected baby powder product, going so far as to provide refunds if needed.
“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,” the company said in a statement. “We also initiated a ‘Do Not Sell’ register prompt in our stores to prevent the sale of this item during the product removal process.”
J&J suggested that the FDA’s baby powder sample may have been cross-contaminated with asbestos. Some talc naturally contains asbestos fibers. Lawsuits claim that J&J knew for decades its baby powder contained asbestos, but did not inform the FDA or the public. Reuters reports that, from the 1970s to the early 2000s, J&J’s own testing found asbestos in its raw talc and finished powders. The company has never placed warning labels on its baby powder.
Asbestos kills approximately 12,000 – 15,000 people per year in the U.S. It is highly regulated by authorities that include the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). According to OSHA, “There is no safe level of asbestos exposure.”
Allegations of asbestos in baby powder is one of several scandals that have threatened J&J’s family-friendly image and caused stock prices to plunge. Earlier this month, J&J was ordered to pay $8 billion to a man who claims he grew breasts after taking the antipsychotic medication Risperdal. In August, an Oklahoma judge ordered J&J to pay $572 million for their role in the state’s opioid crisis. The pharma giant is also facing claims that its pelvic mesh caused a number of women’s health problems.
J&J has suffered a number of costly talcum powder court losses. Last year, a St. Louis jury awarded $4.69 billion to 22 women who claimed that the company’s talcum powder contributed to their ovarian cancer. In June, J&J was ordered to pay nearly $5 million to a woman who claimed the company’s baby powder caused her to develop mesothelioma, an aggressive and fatal cancer. The drugmaker successfully appealed some talc losses. However, the latest talcum powder news could undermine J&J’s legal defenses moving forward.
“We are seeing the credibility of Johnson & Johnson, a once-trusted company, unravel before our eyes,” said Marc Grossman, Senior Partner and co-founder of Sanders Phillips Grossman. “Baby powder, opioids, mesh, Rispedal, Xarelto, Invokana, artificial hips…the list of J&J products named in lawsuits goes on and on. After this latest recall, I don’t know how J&J’s attorneys can say to a jury with a straight face that their baby powder is safe, or that the company puts the well-being of their customers first.”
Johnson & Johnson is facing tens of thousands of lawsuits nationwide involving consumer products, pharmaceuticals, and medical devices. Settling these cases could cost J&J several billion dollars. Its third-quarter revenue of $20.73 billion beat expectations, despite legal troubles. J&J set aside $190 million in the second quarter to defend talc lawsuits.