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J&J recalls batch of baby powder after US FDA flags asbestos contamination

Johnson & Johnson has recalled a single batch of its talc baby powder product due to low levels of cancer-causing asbestos found by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in a bottle bought online.

The New Brunswick, N.J.-based company's consumer arm said in a release that it would be working with the FDA to determine if there was cross-contamination, whether the powder was prepared in a controlled environment and put in a sealed bottle or whether the product might have been counterfeit.

The recall, which is voluntary following the agency's report, will include Johnson's Baby Powder bottles from lot number 22318RB. The company is advising consumers to return the product for a refund.

According to the FDA, talc — a naturally occurring mineral — is often mined in close proximity to its cousin asbestos, which has a different crystal structure. While talc is safe, asbestos is a known carcinogen. The FDA allows no more than 0.00002% of chrystaline asbestos contamination in the consumer product.

J&J, the largest pharmaceutical company in the world by market capitalization, faces more than 14,000 lawsuits alleging that asbestos in its baby powder products caused mesothelioma and ovarian cancer. The largest payout ordered by a court was $417 million, though it was later overturned due to lack of evidence.

During an Oct. 15 earnings call, J&J CFO Joseph Wolk said no case has been fully adjudicated yet and that three decisions had landed in favor of the company the week before the call.

"We're going to continue to defend a product that we know to be safe, that we know does not cause cancer," Wolk said at the time. "So we'll continue to evaluate each situation for its unique merits."

J&J shares opened the day down 3.55% at $131.33 as of 10:03 a.m. ET on Oct. 18.

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