By Manojna Maddipatla and Nivedita Balu
(Reuters) - Four major U.S. retailers, including Walmart <WMT.N> and Target Corp <TGT.N>, are removing all 22-ounce bottles of Johnson & Johnson's <JNJ.N> baby powder from their stores, following the healthcare conglomerate's recall last week of some bottles due to possible asbestos contamination.
J&J, which is facing thousands of lawsuits over a variety of products, said last week it was recalling around 33,000 bottles of baby powder in the United States after U.S. health regulators found trace amounts of asbestos, a known carcinogen, in samples taken from a bottle purchased online.
The move marked the first time J&J recalled its iconic baby powder for possible asbestos contamination, and the first time U.S. regulators announced a finding of asbestos in the product.
Last week's recall was the latest blow to the more than 130-year-old U.S. healthcare conglomerate that is facing thousands of lawsuits over a variety of products, including baby powder, opioids, medical devices and the antipsychotic Risperdal.
Target has removed all bottles of the product from its stores and Target.com following the recall, a spokeswoman said in an email on Friday.
CVS Health Corp <CVS.N> said on Thursday it would remove the bottles from its online store as well, out of caution and to prevent customer confusion. The pharmacy chain said all other sizes of the talc would remain on its shelves.
"It's not important at all in terms of the dollar figure to either CVS or J&J. What it tells you is that retailers are being extra cautious with how they are dealing with J&J's voluntary recall," Jefferies healthcare analyst Jared Holz said.
All product returned to J&J through the recall process – whether the product is from the impacted lot or not – is removed from the marketplace permanently, the company said.
Rite Aid had informed its stores to pull all 22-ounce bottles of Johnson's Baby Powder from shelves on Oct. 18 and store them in a secure location, company spokesman Chris Savarese said.
"Additionally, we've applied a point of sale system block for this product to prevent it from being sold."
Walmart, the world's largest retailer, has also removed and blocked all potentially impacted baby powder, a company spokeswoman said in an emailed statement.
J&J's voluntary recall was limited to one lot of Johnson's Baby Powder produced and shipped in the United States in 2018, J&J said last week. The company added that testing by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as recently as a month ago found no asbestos in their talc.
Commenting on CVS's move, J&J spokesman Ernie Knewitz said, "It's temporary ... They are doing it storewide because they don't have the resources to go through at the store level and check all the SKUs (stock keeping units), check all the lot numbers."
Other retailers are also expected to remove the product from their shelves as they want to avoid liability, said Eric Schiffer, chief executive officer of private equity firm Patriarch Organization.
"It wouldn't surprise me to see Amazon and other online retailers do the same," he added.
J&J has known for decades that asbestos lurked in its talc, Reuters reported last year. Internal company records, trial testimony and other evidence show 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.
Company executives, mine managers, scientists, doctors and lawyers fretted over the problem and how to address it, while failing to disclose it to regulators or the public, Reuters found.
J&J has repeatedly said that its talc products are safe, and that decades of studies have shown them to be asbestos-free and that they do not cause cancer.
(Reporting by Nivedita Balu and Manojna Maddipatla in Bengaluru, Richa Naidu in Chicago, Nandita Bose in Washington, Michael Erman and Caroline Humer in New York; Editing by Maju Samuel and Saumyadeb Chakrabarty)