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Seventeen women with NM ties sue over talcum powder

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Johnson’s baby powder is squeezed from its container, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — It absorbs moisture on baby’s bottoms and for some women on their private areas, but at what cost?

A group of 15 woman with New Mexico ties have joined a growing number of women nationwide suing baby powder manufacturer Johnson & Johnson, claiming the product caused their ovarian cancer. The estates of two women who died from ovarian cancer also joined the suit.

More than 1,100 women have sued the company so far, according to news reports. And a Missouri jury this year found Johnson & Johnson liable and decided by a 10-2 vote to give one of the plaintiffs “$10 million in compensatory damages and $62 million in punitive damages,” according to a Bloomberg Businessweek story from March.

Like its national counterparts, the local lawsuit, filed Thursday by the Branch Law Firm in Albuquerque, says Johnson & Johnson should have alerted its consumers with a simple warning label not to put the talcum powder products on genital areas.

The suit says more than 20 studies dating back 40 years have each shown a significant increase in cancer risk for women using baby powder containing talcum on their underwear and genitals. Johnson & Johnson even marketed some Talcum powders specifically for female genitals.

Johnson & Johnson says in its “A Message About Talc” post on its website that it relied on research that showed talc did not cause ovarian cancer.

“We also know that some epidemiology studies have reported an association between talc and ovarian cancer. However, various governmental and non-governmental agencies as well as other expert panels have reviewed and analyzed all available data, and none have concluded that talc can cause cancer,” according to the website.

Joshua Bradley, one of three attorneys with the Branch Law Firm working on the local suit, said he expects more women to join the action against Johnson & Johnson.

He said Monday that most of the 17 women in the local suit are from New Mexico or lived or traveled in New Mexico at one point. The women range in age between late 20s and 65 years old. They are also from various socioeconomic and racial groups, he said.

“In the (Missouri) lawsuit they discovered papers that Johnson & Johnson markets to black, Hispanic and obese women as their prime market,” Bradley said. “They have an increased risk of ovarian cancer as it is, but you add baby powder into the mix and it’s just a bad combination.”

His firm has included in the lawsuit two additional companies, Ethicon Endo, a Johnson & Johnson surgery product producer in Albuquerque that offered discount products including talc powder to employees, and Imerys Talc America, a company that provides talc from Chinese mines to Johnson & Johnson and also has a location in northern New Mexico.  The Imerys mine in New Mexico produces perlite, not talc.