Why didn't the FDA prevent my asbestos-related cancer from Johnson & Johnson baby powder?

We trust the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to protect us from potentially harmful substances that we put in our bodies. As the name of the agency suggests, the FDA regulates food, over-the-counter medications, and prescription drugs that are available to consumers in the United States. Specific safety standards must be satisfied before food or medicine can be sold.

But Talcum Powder Is Not a Drug

Instead, talcum powders, such as Johnson & Johnson’s talcum-based baby powder, are classified as cosmetics.

Two Hands Holding Johnson and Johnson's Talc-Based PowderThe FDA’s authority to regulate cosmetics is limited to the authority that the United States Congress explicitly gives the FDA. Currently, federal law does not require cosmetics or cosmetic ingredients (except for color additives) to have FDA approval before being sold in the United States.

However, specific federal laws such as the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act and the Fair Packaging and Labeling Act do apply to cosmetic products used in interstate commerce. For example, the FDA could take action against a cosmetic manufacturer if:

  • There is a contaminant that may make the cosmetic harmful
  • The cosmetic is improperly labeled or handled

Therefore, while the FDA does not have to approve cosmetics that go on the market, it does have the authority to request a voluntary recall to get some dangerous cosmetics off the market.

What Happened With Johnson & Johnson’s Talcum-Based Baby Powder?

According to a Reuters investigation, the FDA has relied on the cosmetic industry to self-report on the safety of talcum-based baby powder for the last half-century. The agency claims that it does not have the authority to require manufacturers to conduct any asbestos tests or to report the results of any tests to the government.

Instead of conducting its own tests, the FDA relied on the word of the manufacturers until recently. Recently the FDA did pay for its own tests of 11 different cosmetics that contain talcum powder. The tests included Johnson & Johnson’s baby powder and resulted in the recall of 33,000 bottles of Johnson & Johnson baby powder.

As of January 2020, however, the FDA has refused to issue warnings about potential asbestos contamination in Johnson & Johnson talcum powder or other cosmetics containing talc. The FDA has said, however, that no amount of asbestos is known to be safe and that it will encourage cosmetic product recalls even when only small amounts of asbestos are found in a product.

The Reuters investigation indicates that the FDA had plans to require specific testing for talc powders and cosmetics, but abandoned those plans in the 1970s. If the agency had reached a different decision, then the public may have known about the potential asbestos contamination and the possible health risks earlier and lives may have been saved.

Do You Have Cancer From Asbestos Found in Johnson & Johnson’s Baby Powder?

The FDA did not protect you. Johnson & Johnson did not protect you. Now, you are suffering from ovarian cancer or mesothelioma.

While no one can undo the harm that you’ve already suffered, your doctors may help treat your cancer, and our experienced lawyers will fight hard to help you with your legal and financial recoveries.

It may be challenging to prove that Johnson & Johnson's baby powder caused your cancer. However, other people with ovarian cancer and mesothelioma have successfully sued Johnson & Johnson and recovered millions of dollars for their injuries. Their recoveries often include compensation for past and future medical bills, lost income, out-of-pocket expenses, physical pain, emotional suffering, and punitive damages that are designed to punish Johnson & Johnson for what happened.

Our New England baby powder injury lawyers are here to make sure that your rights are protected. We will gather all of the necessary evidence and fight hard to help you make a fair recovery. Call us today or fill out our online contact form to have us contact you.

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John L. Keefe
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Founding Attorney, Massachusetts Social Security Disability Lawyer