J&J CEO promises talc is asbestos-free, but spurns his chance to tell Congress why

Alex Gorsky
J&J faces about 16,800 talc lawsuits, according to a recent SEC filing. (J&J)

Companies embroiled in controversies often send top execs to face questions in Congress. That's not the case for Johnson & Johnson CEO Alex Gorsky, who has spurned "repeated" requests from a House of Representatives subcommittee to testify on asbestos testing for talc.  

The House Subcommittee on Economic and Consumer Policy is holding a hearing today covering asbestos testing in consumer talc, and the committee says it couldn’t convince Gorsky to participate. 

“Johnson & Johnson has refused the Subcommittee’s invitations to testify publicly—despite nearly a month’s advance notice and the Subcommittee’s repeated attempts to accommodate the company,” the notice says.

The subcommittee invited Gorsky—plus a scientist, a geologist, a physician and a patient—to participate. Multiple witnesses who were invited have testified against J&J in talc litigation, according to press reports. 

In a response to Reuters, a J&J spokesman said the company “respectfully declined” the invitation as Gorsky isn’t “an expert in the stated subject of the hearing.” J&J offered to send a talc testing expert, but the subcommittee rejected the offer, he added. 

RELATED: J&J says tests find no asbestos in suspect talc batch, but FDA stands by its finding 

J&J has faced years of talc safety scrutiny in the form of consumer lawsuits, and Gorsky has at times weighed in on the issue. In a video last year, he said that “we know that our talc is safe.” 

“In fact, for over 100 years, Johnson & Johnson has known that the talc in our baby powder is the purest, safest pharmaceutical grade talc on earth,” he said. “Very importantly, if we believed our products were unsafe, they would be off the shelves and out of the market immediately.” 

That assurance and others haven't convinced plaintiffs and critics. The company faces about 16,800 lawsuits alleging harm from talc, and this fall, the FDA said tests turned up “sub-trace” levels of asbestos in one baby powder bottle. Out of an “abundance of caution,” J&J recalled 33,000 bottles and ran more tests. The company later said third-party tests cleared the product, but the FDA stood by its findings.