Child Protection Organization Asks Indian States to Test Johnson & Johnson Baby Products for Hazardous Chemicals

On May 17, 2016, India’s National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR), a child rights organization, wrote to officials in five Indian states asking them to test Johnson & Johnson’s baby powder and baby shampoo for asbestos, formaldehyde and other hazardous chemicals.

The NCPCR wrote to the chief secretaries of Madhya Pradesh, Assam, Jharkhand, Andhra Pradesh and Rajasthan, according to the news site DNAIndia. The agency asked the states “to collect samples of Johnson & Johnson baby powder and shampoo,” and send the samples to an accredited government laboratory for testing. NCPCR specified that the labs should test for the “presence of asbestos (in powder) and formaldehyde (in shampoo) or any other hazardous chemical,” DNA reports. Asbestos and formaldehyde have both been classified as human carcinogens by a number of health organizations.

The NCPCR took action in response to a verdict in a trial in the U.S. The jury awarded $72 million to the family of a woman who died from ovarian cancer. She was a long-time user of Johnson & Johnson’s talcum powder products for feminine hygiene.

Government health agencies including the U.S. National Toxicology Program and the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) of the World Health Organization have identified formaldehyde as a human carcinogen. Research published in the journal Science shows the link between leukemia and exposure to formaldehyde. IARC has classified formaldehyde as a human carcinogen that causes nasopharyngeal cancer, DNA reports.

Talc is a naturally occurring mineral that is widely used in personal care products like facial powder, body powder and baby powder. Talc absorbs moisture and helps prevent rashes, but some talc contains a form of amphibole asbestos known as tremolite. IARC says that talc that contains asbestos is carcinogenic.

A spokesperson for Johnson & Johnson India said the company had not received any inquiries about baby powder or baby shampoo from the government or from the child protection body. “Johnson & Johnson has always taken questions about the safety of our products extremely seriously. We want to assure everyone that all our products meet the highest quality, purity and compliance standards,” the spokesperson said, according to DNA. The statement said the recent U.S. jury decisions “goes against 30 years of studies by medical experts around the world that continue to support the safety of cosmetic talc.”

Johnson & Johnson India said, “We never add formaldehyde directly to our products, and from 2015 even the formaldehyde-releasers have been removed from our products.”

Hundreds of lawsuits in the U.S. allege that the use of talcum powder as a feminine hygiene product is linked to the development of ovarian cancer. In addition to the $72 million jury award, an ovarian cancer survivor was awarded $55 million early this year. A group of women in New Mexico has filed a lawsuit claiming Johnson & Johnson’s talcum powder caused ovarian cancer, and an attorney in Toronto, Canada is launching a class action on behalf of Canadian women with ovarian cancer.

Though the link between talcum powder and ovarian cancer is still being researched, a number of studies have shown evidence of increased ovarian cancer risk in women with longer-term use talcum powder use in the genital area.


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