EWG: Latest Asbestos Recall of J&J Baby Powder Demands Congressional Action

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For Immediate Release: 
Friday, October 18, 2019

WASHINGTON – In response to new asbestos detections of Johnson & Johnson’s popular baby powder, EWG today urged Congress to act quickly to require warning labels on products made with talc.

The Food and Drug Administration today warned consumers about Johnson’s Baby Powder Lot #22318RB. A sample from this lot was found to contain chrysotile fibers, a type of asbestos. Johnson & Johnson has voluntarily recalled this lot, which was manufactured and shipped last year.

Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.) has introduced legislation that would require warning labels on cosmetics that could contain asbestos and are marketed to children.

The legislation would require companies to demonstrate that cosmetics marketed to children are free of asbestos. If manufacturers could not prove the products were asbestos-free, the items would have to carry a warning. The bill would also update methods to test cosmetics for the presence of asbestos.

“Thousands of products with talc could contain asbestos,” said Scott Faber, EWG’s senior vice president for government affairs. “It’s long past time for Congress to act. Consumers have the right to know whether these products, widely used by American kids, are contaminated with a known carcinogen that is responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Americans.”

Asbestos can contaminate talc-based cosmetics such as facial powders and eye shadow. Geologically, talc and asbestos can be formed from the same parent rock. As a result, talc deposits mined in many parts of the world can be contaminated with asbestos fibers.

The federal government says there is no safe level of asbestos exposure for any type of asbestos fiber. Even small amounts of asbestos, and exposures as short as a few days, can cause mesothelioma, an incurable cancer, and other diseases many years later. From an analysis of federal mortality data, EWG Action Fund estimated that up to 15,000 Americans die each year from asbestos-triggered diseases. 

Under the Dingell bill, companies would be required to use updated testing methods to ensure that cosmetics not contain asbestos. If companies decline to certify that products are free from asbestos, they would be required to warn consumers that the product has not been tested and is not suitable for use by children.

In March, the House Oversight and Reform Committee held a hearing into talc-based personal care products that could contain trace levels of asbestos. In testimony before the panel, Faber reported there are more than 2,000 talc-based products in EWG’s online Skin Deep® database, including more than 1,000 loose or pressed powders that could pose a risk of being inhaled.

The results from the Johnson & Johnson sample are part an ongoing FDA survey of cosmetic products for asbestos. The survey started in 2018 and involves the testing of about 50 cosmetic products.

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The Environmental Working Group is a nonprofit, non-partisan organization that empowers people to live healthier lives in a healthier environment. Through research, advocacy and unique education tools, EWG drives consumer choice and civic action.