Johnson & Johnson Says Recalled Baby Powder Doesn’t Have Asbestos

The F.D.A. had said it discovered evidence of the carcinogen in a bottle.

Johnson & Johnson recalled 33,000 bottles of its baby powder this month.
Johnson & Johnson recalled 33,000 bottles of its baby powder this month.Credit...Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
Tiffany Hsu

Johnson & Johnson said on Tuesday that it did not find asbestos in multiple tests of a bottle of baby powder that the Food and Drug Administration said contained trace amounts of the carcinogen.

The company had recalled 33,000 bottles of the product earlier this month after the regulator said it discovered evidence of chrysotile asbestos in a bottle bought from an online retailer. Johnson & Johnson said 15 new tests of that very bottle came up clean.

Another 48 tests of samples from the recalled lot, conducted by two third-party labs, reached the same conclusion, the company said. Johnson & Johnson is facing lawsuits from more than 15,000 plaintiffs who claim that the company’s baby powder and other talc-based products caused their cancer.

“We stand by the safety of our product,” the company said in a statement. Johnson & Johnson’s shares rose in after-hours trading on Tuesday afternoon.

The company said it contacted the two labs after the recall to expedite tests of the baby powder in question. Three samples did initially test positive for asbestos, the company said in Tuesday’s statement, but after an investigation by the lab the contamination was found to be coming from a portable air-conditioner in the room.

“This finding underscores the importance of investigating any positive test result,” the company said, adding that “even when careful safeguards are followed, asbestos contamination may be introduced during sample division, storage, preparation and analysis.

At the time of the recall, the F.D.A. told The New York Times that its handling of the baby powder sample “followed standard operating procedures for laboratory analysis” and that it saw “no indication of cross-contamination.”

For decades, Johnson & Johnson has cast doubt on multiple findings of asbestos in its talc products, blaming poorly executed tests, unqualified scientists, similar-looking minerals and other factors. The company said that it “routinely” uses “a rigorous testing standard” to check its talc.

The recall had prompted some retailers to remove certain baby powder bottles from their shelves. Rite Aid said it put 22-ounce bottles of the Johnson & Johnson product in storage, and CVS and Walmart also pulled the product.

The company is facing an onslaught of litigation over its talc products and other business segments, with claims involving opioids, transvaginal pelvic mesh implants and the antipsychotic drug Risperdal.

Last week, Johnson & Johnson said it generated $10.9 billion in pharmaceutical sales during its most recent quarter, as well as $6.4 billion in medical device sales and $3.5 billion in consumer sales. Sales in its baby-care division slumped nearly 12 percent to $417 million.