The powder and the poison

Johnson & Johnson is accused of knowing asbestos lurked in its Baby Powder. Lisa Girion reports.

Darlene Coker knew she was dying.

She just wanted to know why.

She knew that her cancer, mesothelioma, arose in the delicate membrane surrounding her lungs and other organs. She knew it was as rare as it was deadly, a signature of exposure to asbestos. And she knew it afflicted mostly men who inhaled asbestos dust in mines and industries that used the carcinogen before its risks were understood.

Coker, 52, had raised two daughters and was running a massage school in Lumberton, Texas. How had she been exposed to asbestos? “She wanted answers,” her daughter, Cady Evans, said.

Fighting for every breath and in crippling pain, Coker hired Herschel Hobson, a personal-injury lawyer.

He homed in on a suspect: the Johnson’s Baby Powder that Coker had used on her infant children and sprinkled on herself all her life.

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