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UPDATE 1-Imerys Talc America files for bankruptcy under weight of talc litigation

Tina Bellon

litigation@ (Adds details from statement, background, changes headline, lead)

Feb 13 (Reuters) - Imerys Talc America, the U.S. unit of French group Imerys SA and a supplier to healthcare conglomerate Johnson & Johnson Inc, on Wednesday said it was filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in light of rising costs in the litigation over cosmetic talc.

"After carefully evaluating all possible options, we determined that pursuing Chapter 11 protection is the best course of action to address our historic talc-related liabilities and position the filing companies for continued growth," Imerys said in a statement.

Imerys' U.S. unit faces thousands of consumer lawsuits alleging that its talc causes cancer. The company supplied cosmetic talc to J&J for Johnson's Baby Powder and other talc-based products.

Both companies have repeatedly denied the allegations, saying numerous studies and tests by regulators worldwide have shown their talc to be safe.

J&J on Wednesday did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Imerys said that while it continued to believe the lawsuits are without merit, the prospect of rising settlement and defense costs over the next few years prompted the decision to file for bankruptcy. (Additional reporting by Tamara Mathias in Bengaluru; Editing by Anil D'Silva and Bill Berkrot)