WASHINGTON, Dec 20 (Reuters) - Two Democratic U.S. lawmakers have called on the Environmental Protection Agency to answer questions about asbestos exposure after Reuters reported that documents showed Johnson & Johnson knew for decades of the mineral’s presence in its popular baby powder.
Whether asbestos in the talc supply in Johnson & Johnson’s Baby Powder caused cancer has been the subject of litigation for years.
The lawmakers, Senator Jeff Merkley and Representative Suzanne Bonamici, did not mention Johnson & Johnson by name but expressed "deep concern" about Friday’s Reuters report, according to a copy of their letter dated Dec. 19 and reviewed by Reuters.
In their letter, the two lawmakers asked the EPA how it was regulating potentially unsafe asbestos-containing products.
J&J has disputed the Reuters report, calling it a "misrepresentation." The company says its talc is safe and has never contained asbestos, adding that decades of studies and regulatory assessments confirm the safety of its product.
Representatives for the EPA did not be respond to an email or a telephone call seeking comment on the congressional letter.
Asked about the lawmakers' letter, J&J spokesman Ernie Knewitz declined to comment but said the Reuters report was "one-sided, false and inflammatory."
According to the Reuters report, documents as well as deposition and trial testimony showed that from at least 1971 to the early 2000s the company's raw talc and finished powders sometimes tested positive for small amounts of asbestos.
Most internal J&J asbestos test reports Reuters reviewed did not find asbestos.
The company has defended its products in recent days with a series of full-page newspaper advertisements and a television interview with its chief executive. Shares of the company have fallen about 12.5 percent since the Reuters report on Friday.
Merkley and Bonamici also asked the EPA to detail what steps it was taking to help prevent vulnerable populations such as pregnant women and infants from being exposed to products containing asbestos, including other products with talc, a mineral.
Although baby powder is subject to regulation under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, other talc products sold to consumers would be within the purview of the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) and thus the responsibility of the EPA, they wrote in the letter.
Democratic U.S. Senator Edward Markey separately called on the FDA to investigate the findings in the Reuters report in a letter on Friday. The FDA could not immediately be reached for comment.
"Asbestos is a known carcinogen, and one for which there is no controlled use or safe level of exposure," Merkley and Bonamici wrote. "Fifty-five countries have already banned asbestos. Unfortunately, the United States still permits the use of asbestos." (Reporting by Lisa Girion Writing by Susan Heavey Editing by Alistair Bell and Howard Goller)