NEW YORK – Procter & Gamble Co. is locked in a public-relations war with blogging parents demanding that the company recall Pampers diapers they say are unsafe.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission launched an investigation May 3 into complaints that Pampers with Dry Max, the latest version of P&G’s $9-billion-a-year brand, causes rashes and chemical burns. The company denies the claims.

Parent bloggers can damage companies that anger them, said Jackie Huba, principal of Ant’s Eye View, an Austin, Texas, strategy consulting firm. Unproven blog posts can metastasize on the Web and spread, she said.

“Social media is a word-of-mouth jet stream. When you have angry moms, it’s going to go all over the world,” Huba said. “This is very dangerous for P&G. Their reputation is very important as they compete with cheaper generic diapers.”

LAWSUITS FILED

Last week, two lawsuits seeking class-action status were filed in Ohio against Cincinnati-based P&G. The plaintiff parents assert the company “knew or should have known that Pampers with Dry Max had the capacity to and, in many cases, did actually harm infants and toddlers by causing severe rashes, blisters, chemical burns, infections, and/or other ailments.”

The complaints seek class action — or group — status on behalf of all Dry Max diaper purchasers plus reimbursement for rash-related medical costs incurred. The consumers also seek a court order directing P&G to “ensure that the Pampers lack the capacity to cause severe rashes, blisters, welts” and other ailments to “babies’ and children’s extremely sensitive and delicate bottoms.”

In a statement, P&G said in part: “While we have great empathy for any parent dealing with diaper rash — a common and sometimes severe condition — the claims in this lawsuit are completely false.”

The anti-Pampers campaign started with parents on Facebook complaining that P&G’s new Dry Max diapers were causing skin rashes and chemical burns. Sara Ann Fobear, a 21-year-old social worker in Belleville, Ontario, with an 8-month-old daughter, started a Facebook page, “RECALL PAMPERS DRY MAX DIAPERS!”

“U think when you buy the best diapers Pampers that your baby is safe and you only want what is best for them then find out it’s the diapers that have been causing your baby so much agony,” Fobear wrote.

When P&G launched Dry Max in March, the company called the new diapers Pampers’ “biggest innovation in 25 years.” The company says the new Pampers are 20 percent thinner and twice as absorbent as previous diapers.

In a May 6 statement, P&G denied that Dry Max Pampers caused rashes or burns.

“These rumors are being perpetuated by a small number of parents, some of whom are unhappy that we replaced our older Cruisers and Swaddlers products while others support competitive products and the use of cloth diapers,” the company said.

COMPANY RESPONDS

The company posted to its Pampers Facebook page a letter from Pampers Vice President Jodi Allen and a video featuring a pediatrician discussing diaper rash. P&G also added a “Questions about Pampers with Dry Max?” section to the Pampers website.

Spokesman Bryan McCleary said the company has found no evidence that the diapers cause rashes or burns and that P&G has had one rash complaint for every 5 million Dry Max diapers sold, or about 400 complaints.

“We’re insulted that someone would imply that our products are dangerous,” he said.

Lisa Stone, a graphic designer from the Puget Sound area who has a 3-year-old son, says P&G’s statements about Pampers Dry Max are not reassuring.

“It’s been extremely insulting to hear that we, as parents are not ‘changing’ our soiled children often enough,” Stone, who was involved in the Facebook campaign, wrote in an e-mail.

Social-media and public-relations experts say P&G should have made concerned mothers feel more listened to.

By issuing a news release calling the allegations “completely false,” the company “basically called their core customers liars,” Huba said. “I would like to see a person from P&G saying online what they’re doing, how they’re responding to it.”

“If you’re feeling vulnerable, you’re feeling scared,” said Mike Paul, president of MGP & Associates, a New York public-relations firm. “And when you get scared, you sometimes get angry. This is where these moms are right now. They want a reason to trust P&G.”

At a consumer products symposium in New York last Thursday, P&G Chief Financial Officer Jon R. Moeller was asked about Pampers Dry Max.

“The consumer vote is disproportionately positive,” he said. “There are a small group of consumers who are not satisfied, and we’re working to address that.”