Indian drug regulator Central Drugs Standard Control Organization (CDSCO) is reportedly securing samples of the talcum powder, as well as its raw material in order to investigate.

Explainer Johnson Johnson under scanner after reports of carcinogen in baby powderFlickr: Mike Mozart/CC BY 2.0
news Explainer Wednesday, December 19, 2018 - 17:58

Multi-national company Johnson & Johnson, which has its presence in many Indian homes, in the form of the familiar white bottle containing baby powder, is now under the scanner after an investigation by Reuters reported that the company knew that its baby talcum powder was periodically found to have contained traces of asbestos, a carcinogenic.

Indian drug regulator Central Drugs Standard Control Organization (CDSCO) is reportedly securing samples of the talcum powder, as well as its raw material in order to investigate.  

“The inspectors will visit J&J’s manufacturing facility, draw samples for further investigation,” an official told Livemint. Reuters reported samples have been seized from the company’s factory in Himachal Pradesh.

We tested samples in 2016, but no such thing was found in them," K Bangarurajan, a spokesperson for CDSCO, told Reuters.

On December 14, a Reuters investigation titled ‘Johnson & Johnson knew for decades that asbestos lurked in its Baby Powder’ detailed that the company knew about the asbestos in its talcum powder. The investigation reported that at least since the early 1970s to the early 2000s, the company was in the know about the possibility of some amount of asbestos being present in its product and that they attempted to tackle the issue, but never disclosed the same — to regulators or consumers.

According to the report, talc and asbestos are found near each other when it is mined. In the early 2000s, the company’s contract labs occasionally found asbestos in small amounts in talc from mines, which supplied the mineral for the baby powder.

In July, a jury in the US had ordered Johnson & Johnson to pay $4.69 billion in damages to 22 women and their families who had claimed the company's talcum power products caused them to develop ovarian cancer. The compensation awarded by a jury in St. Louis, Missouri, is divided into $550 million in compensatory damages and another $4.14 billion in punitive damages, Efe reported. This is the largest damages Johnson & Johnson has faced to date among about 9,000 similar cases.

The plaintiffs, six of whom have already died, alleged that asbestos found in the baby-product company's talcum powder caused their ovarian cancer since the 1970s.

According to the New York Times, the company faces close to 12,000 lawsuits in the US, which claim that it can cause cancer.

Following the Reuters report, CNBC reported that the company lost close to $50 billion in market value in the two trading days after the article was published. The shares of Johnson & Johnson plummeted post the Reuters report, and it promised to buy back up to five billion dollars of its stock.

The company has denied all claims of asbestos in its product.

In a video posted on the company’s website on December 17, the company’s Chairman and CEO Alex Gorsky, said, “We know that our talc is safe. In fact, for over 100 years, Johnson & Johnson has known that the talc in our baby powder is the purest, safest, pharmaceutical grade talc on Earth. Very importantly, if we believed that our products weren’t safe, they would be off the shelves and out of the market immediately. J&J baby powder is safe and does not cause cancer."

Livemint reported the Maharashtra Food and Drug Administration cancelled the licence of the company’s facility in Mumbai in 2013 after 160,000 packets of the talc had been sterilised at another plant using ethylene oxide, another carcinogenic.

“The facility where they sent the powder was not licensed to treat powder. The company was charged for multiple violations and their licence was cancelled, facility shut for three months after which they went to the court and got the relief,” Mahesh Zagade, former FDA commissioner of Maharashtra told the business daily.

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