CVS Health Corp. is pulling some bottles of Johnson & Johnson’s baby powder off pharmacy shelves after government regulators found tiny amounts of asbestos in one lot of the talc-based product.
Rhode Island-based CVS, the largest U.S. pharmacy chain by locations, said Thursday it’s removing all 22-ounce bottles of baby powder from its stores and off its website. J&J issued a limited recall last week.
“We took this step as a matter of precaution and to prevent customer confusion,” Mike DeAngelis, a CVS spokesman, said in an interview.
J&J shares fell as much as 2.9% on the news and closed down $2.40, or 1.9%, to $127.49.
On Oct. 18, J&J said U.S. Food and Drug Administration tests found one lot of 33,000 bottles of powder had trace levels of asbestos, a carcinogen. The company issued a recall for that lot only. J&J officials have said they are looking into whether cross-contamination of the sample caused a false positive, whether the product was appropriately sealed and maintained in a controlled environment, and whether the product was a counterfeit.
J&J said it was notified by CVS about the decision to pull the 22-ounce bottles off shelves.
“All other Johnson’s Baby Powder products will remain on their shelves,” Ernie Knewitz, a J&J spokesman, said in an email.
J&J has been in the crosshairs recently over claims it knew for 40 years that its iconic baby powder was tainted with asbestos and hid it from consumers. Asbestos is often found intertwined with talc when mined. The company faces more than 15,000 lawsuits over its handling of its talc-based powders, as well as regulatory and criminal investigations.
Some consumers say they developed cancer from long-term use of the powders and that J&J should be held liable for failing to put a warning on its iconic white bottles.
The company has steadfastly maintained its baby powder has never been contaminated with asbestos, but some juries have rejected those claims. Last year, a St. Louis jury awarded $4.69 billion to more than 20 women who blamed their cancers on baby powder use. That verdict is on appeal.
Baby powder-related liabilities could eventually cost the company as much as $10 billion, according to Bloomberg Intelligence. Though the product accounts for only a small fraction of J&J’s annual revenue, it’s been a core brand for the company for more than a century.