Asbestos Found in Talc-Based Tiger Brands Baby Powder

Asbestos Exposure & Bans

Johnson & Johnson isn’t the only market leader struggling with the issue of asbestos-contaminated talc in its baby powder.

Tiger Brands, the largest food producer in South Africa, has recalled its Purity Essentials Baby Powder as a “precautionary measure,” after trace amounts of asbestos were detected in test samples.

The recall was announced Sept. 8, less than a month after Johnson & Johnson informed company shareholders that it was ending the worldwide sale of its talc-based product in 2023.

Tiger Brands, one of the largest packaged goods companies on the continent, is expected to continue selling its talc-based baby powder once the recall has been completed. Its products also can be found in Cameroon, Kenya, Zimbabwe, Nigeria, Chile and Mozambique.

“I can assure you that the testing that we did was unrelated to anything linked to J&J issues,” Tiger Brands Chief Operating Officer Noel Doyle said. “While we found trace levels of asbestos in the raw material, we’ve acted to recall everything that’s on the market, despite the fact that previous testing did not show any trace levels.”

Asbestos in Talc Has Prompted Lawsuits

Asbestos, a toxic, naturally occurring mineral, is found near the Earth’s surface, often close to where talc is mined. Talc is coveted as one of the world’s softest minerals.

Johnson & Johnson stopped selling the talc-based version of its baby powder in the U.S. and Canada after becoming the target of close to 40,000 talc lawsuits, most claiming that use of the product caused serious health problems, including ovarian cancer. A small number of cases claim the asbestos contamination led to mesothelioma cancer.

Although J&J shareholders voted in May against ending the worldwide sale of the talc-based powder, company executives overruled them while continuing to insist the product was safe.

Since 2020, Johnson & Johnson has been transitioning to a cornstarch-based baby powder, which Tiger Brands already is using, along with its talc-based product.

The majority of companies today have moved away from talc-based powders, according to Women’s Voices for the Earth, a nonprofit based in Montana that is focused on toxic chemicals and gender justice.

In recent years, scientific studies of Johnson’s Baby Powder have been mixed. Some have shown that women who use the product regularly increase their risk of ovarian cancer. Other studies have not shown a risk.

Talc Asbestos Lawsuits Continue

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration discovered small traces of asbestos in Johnson’s Baby Powder samples in 2019, which prompted a partial recall and helped fuel the rise in lawsuits.

Less than a year later, Johnson & Johnson suspended sales of the product in the U.S. and Canada, but insisted the stoppage was in response to exaggerated reports of contamination and legal ramifications.

This latest recall by Tiger Brands is expected to accentuate the efforts against J&J, which continues to say its product is asbestos-free.

To fend off the lawsuits and absorb its talc liabilities, though, Johnson & Johnson created a new subsidiary earlier this year, LTL Management LLC, which immediately filed for bankruptcy.

The J&J talc bankruptcy filing, which was approved by a federal judge in New Jersey, was designed to limit legal exposure and includes a trust fund worth an estimated $3 billion.

That filing has temporarily suspended most of the lawsuits but is being challenged in court and looked at by Congress. 

According to its own financial reports, Johnson & Johnson has already spent close to $1 billion in legal fees and $3.5 billion in settlements and verdicts.

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