Johnson & Johnson is recalling a shipment of baby powder after the Food and Drug Administration discovered evidence of asbestos, the company said on Friday, after months spent denying the presence of the carcinogen in its talc-based products.
In a test, the regulator found trace levels of chrysotile asbestos in samples from a bottle of baby powder purchased from an online retailer, Johnson & Johnson said.
Ernie Knewitz, a spokesman for Johnson & Johnson, said the recalled lot, #22318RB, involves 33,000 bottles sold by an unidentified retailer. The recall is the first time Johnson & Johnson has ever pulled baby powder from the market, he said.
The company said it is initiating the recall in the United States “out of an abundance of caution.” The move comes as Johnson & Johnson fends off thousands of lawsuits brought by people who claim that baby powder and other talc-based products caused them to develop cancer. Some have mesothelioma, an aggressive cancer that is considered the signature disease of asbestos exposure, while others have ovarian cancer, which has also been linked to asbestos.
A New York Times investigation last year found that Johnson & Johnson executives were aware for decades of the risks of asbestos contamination in talc but did not warn consumers. Internal memos and reports made public during litigation against the company document executives’ concerns about potential contamination that date back 50 years.
The recalled baby powder was produced and shipped last year. The company said it has started “a rigorous, thorough investigation into the matter” and is working with the F.D.A. to “determine the integrity of the tested sample and the validity of the test results.”
The company added that “thousands of tests over the past 40 years repeatedly confirm that our consumer talc products do not contain asbestos.”
The recall “will undermine Johnson & Johnson’s defense claims,” leading the company to “lose more suits or pay more to settle,” said Erik Gordon, a University of Michigan business professor who studies corporate governance.