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Prelims Capsule

Human Development

Cancer-causing substance found in Johnson & Johnson’s

Cancer-causing substance found in Johnson & Johnson’s

Tag: GS 2 ||Governance & Social Justice || Human Development  || Health

Why In News?

  • Twenty-four bottles of Johnson & Johnson baby shampoo were tested randomly from two batches in Rajasthan
  • A random test conducted on two batches of Johnson & Johnson’s baby shampoo samples in Rajasthan has found traces of the chemical formaldehyde, a known carcinogen.
  • This comes just a few months after the authorities launched an investigation into J&J’s Baby Powder to see if it contains cancer-causing asbestos.


  • Formaldehyde(systematic name methanal) is a naturally occurring organic compound with the formula CH2O (H-CHO). It is the simplest of the aldehydes (R-CHO). The common name of this substance comes from its similarity and relation to formic acid.
  • Formaldehyde is an important precursor to many other materials and chemical compounds. In 1996, the installed capacity for the production of formaldehyde was estimated at 8.7 million tons per year. It is mainly used in the production of industrial resins, e.g., for particle boardand coatings.

Is it dangerous?

Most of the fears around the chemical arise from the fact that the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classifies formaldehyde as a carcinogen. This classification is based on studies of workers in the automotive and textile industries

 Formaldehydeare we exposed to

Formaldehyde is everywhere around us, including in the food we eat, such as fruits and fish. It occurs in household products like furniture polish. 

Risk from baby shampoo

  • Not just shampoo, but several personal-care products have chemicals that release formaldehyde, such as quarternium-15 and methenamine. These are added because formaldehyde kills bacteria and fungi, which are also a risk to cosmetics users.
  • Yes, both formaldehyde and Quaternium-15 can trigger skin allergies at levels present in shampoos.

Use  of formaldehyde by J&J

  • J&J has questioned the Rajasthan drug controller’s claim, and insisted that it adds no formaldehyde-releasing chemicals to its baby shampoo. Since 2014, after the company faced opposition from NGOs such as the Environmental Working Group, it replaced Quaternium-15 in its formulation with sodium benzoate.
  • We do not accept the interim results given to us… The government did not disclose the test methods, details or any quantitative findings.”
  • “This is concerning, especially when there is no prescribed test method or requirement for testing formaldehyde in shampoo under the applicable standards. We have confirmed to the Indian authorities that we do not add formaldehyde as an ingredient in our shampoo nor does Johnson’s baby shampoo contain any ingredient that can release formaldehyde over time.”

Mains  Question                                                                                  

Cancer-causing substances were recently found in Johnson & Johnson’s. Discuss the institutional mechanisms to deal with such incidents and how best they can be avoided in the future.