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Johnson & Johnson & Its Old Pal the FDA

Last week Reuters News published a new report as part of their continuing investigation into Johnson & Johnson revealing new details on how the corporate giant used its relationship with the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) to manipulate the public’s trust for more than 50 years.

In November 2018 the FDA sponsored and hosted the “Asbestos in Talc Symposium” in Washington DC. The purpose of the symposium was to discuss and determine the best methods for testing cosmetic talc for asbestos amid increasing concerns of consumers following news reports of asbestos found in cosmetic talc products sold in the US.

While FDA meetings are typically open to the public, the FDA’s “Asbestos in Talc Symposium” was an invite-only affair. Attendees were limited to past and present employees of the FDA and other regulatory agencies along with representatives of the cosmetic talc industry. Also present were consultants and scientists hired as expert witnesses by talc manufacturers to debunk legal claims by mesothelioma and ovarian cancer victims asserting that asbestos in talc products was responsible for their illness.

Dr. David Egilman, a physician and recognized expert in the detection of asbestos in talc, sought to attend the FDA’s timely and important symposium. He was hoping to offer his expertise, as a physician and researcher, on what technicians should look for under the microscope. Dr. Egilman, who has served as an expert witness on behalf of mesothelioma and ovarian cancer victims in lawsuits against cosmetic talc companies, was denied an invitation to the FDA’s symposium.

The FDA’s exclusion of attendees, such as Dr. Egilman, whose views do not align with the cosmetic talc industry, is not surprising. Since the 1970s the FDA has downplayed the risk of asbestos contamination in talc. It has allowed the talc industry to self-regulate despite the serious concerns repeatedly raised by outside experts about talc and other harmful agents in cosmetics.

In 1983 a graduate student petitioned the FDA for warning labels on cosmetic talc products about potential asbestos exposure. The FDA denied the request stating that there was no evidence that talc products contained enough asbestos to present a danger.

In 1993 the FDA received another petition for warning labels, this time from three doctors who based their request on 30 years of scientific data that talc use in the perineal area was linked to ovarian cancer. The petition was denied.

In 1994 and in 2008 Dr. Samuel Epstein, environmental medicine professor at the University of Illinois, petitioned the FDA to put a warning label on talc due to it’s link to ovarian cancer. Both petitions were denied.

As more is learned about the FDA’s failure to act on decades-old reports of asbestos in talc out of deference to the cosmetic talc industry, it appears that current FDA leadership is starting to wake up!

In March of this year a statement and safety alert was released by FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, M.D. after independent testing revealed the presence of asbestos in a popular brand’s cosmetic powder. Although, in so doing, Commissioner Gottlieb stated that the current law does not require cosmetics to be reviewed and approved by the FDA prior to being sold to American consumers, and actually inhibits the FDAs ability to adequately monitor products once they’re on the market.

Commissioner Gottlieb’s statement reflects the urgent need for the FDA to work with Congress to modernize the outdated regulatory framework that the FDA has been operating under for more than 80 years when it comes to cosmetics and acknowledges that federal rules have not kept pace with the cosmetic industry’s substantial growth and a global supply chain. The same day his statement was released, Commissioner Gottlieb announced his resignation from the FDA.

In October 2019, FDA testing found chrysotile asbestos in a bottle of Johnson & Johnson’s Baby Powder prompting a manufacturer recall of 33,000 bottles of baby powder. J&J denied the accuracy of the tests and claimed that their own testing of the same lot of powder came up negative for asbestos, but the FDA is standing by its findings.

Could this finally be the end of the FDA’s “friendship” with J&J and its cronies, and the start of meaningful consumer protection from asbestos-contaminated cosmetic talc products? Stay tuned.

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