Marvin Salter’s mother, Jackie Salter Fox, approached her ovarian cancer diagnosis with a positive attitude and a big smile. “She smiled through her surgery, through her chemotherapy, and even the hair loss that it caused,” Mr. Salter said during his testimony to the House Subcommittee on Economic and Consumer Policy this week. “Her spirit was never broken despite what happened to her body,” he said, fighting tears. “She smiled through it all.”
When she learned that her daily use of Johnson & Johnson’s talcum powder products for more than 30 years was the cause of her disease, she sought justice. “I was not involved in her decision to file a lawsuit, but I supported her fully,” Salter said. “She wanted to raise awareness for women about the risk of cancer. Unfortunately, she never made it to her trial.” Jackie Fox died in October 2015.
The Congressional committee met this week to examine the risk of cancer from long-term use of talc-containing products, such as Johnson & Johnson’s Baby Powder and Shower to Shower body powder. A recent Reuters investigation into internal documents found that Johnson & Johnson knew for decades that the talc it used in some of its products was contaminated with cancer-causing asbestos.
Johnson & Johnson has been hit with more than 12,000 lawsuits alleging its talc contained asbestos and other impurities that contributed to diseases such as ovarian cancer and mesothelioma, a rare and deadly form of cancer caused by asbestos exposure. Its talc supplier, Imerys Talc America, recently filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy to shield itself from more than 14,000 lawsuits alleging cancer risks.
Subcommittee Chairman Raja Krishnamoorthi also cited recent recalls of cosmetics marketed to tweens by retailers Claire’s and Justice, due to the presence of asbestos in some of their talcum powder-based makeup. Talc and asbestos are mined from the earth and, in some cases, in similar proximity.
“Let’s be clear: There is no question that exposure to asbestos is hazardous to human health,” Krishnamoorthi said. But the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is limited in its oversight of cosmetics companies and cannot order them to issue recalls. In fact, Claire’s initially refused to recall its products, ultimately agreeing after the FDA issued a Safety Alert warning consumers not to use the products due to cancer risks.
“The question is why?” Krishnamoorthi said about the FDA’s limited oversight. “Because a loophole in the statute that empowers the FDA to regulate personal care products and cosmetics does not allow the FDA to require necessary recalls.”
Neither Johnson & Johnson nor any other cosmetics company were called on to testify, but J&J did offer a statement from Ernie W. Knewitz, vice president of media relations. “We have long supported legislation to modernize the U.S. FDA’s regulatory authority over cosmetics and personal care products, and believe this reform is essential to enabling the agency to increase their ability to protect the public.”
Knewitz added that the testimony presented at the hearing was “biased with a majority of witnesses being connected to litigation against our company.” J&J continues to stand by the safety of its product.
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