TORRANCE – Attorneys for plaintiff Carolyn Weirick on Friday presented study findings that said a person’s risk of developing mesothelioma goes up with increased talc powder dosage and the younger a person is exposed, the higher the risk, but an expert witness for Johnson & Johnson disputed portions of that testimony.
“That is scientifically incorrect for a number of reasons,” said Dr. Richard Attanoos, a pathologist at Cardiff University in Wales, in reference to one of the documents presented to him.
Plaintiff attorneys were trying to establish that Weirick’s long exposure to Johnson & Johnson Baby Powder beginning when she was an infant and later using an adult powder product called Shower to Shower had caused her to develop mesothelioma.
Attanoos continued to maintain the disease was a naturally occurring event that was spontaneous in nature.
The trial in the Los Angeles Superior Court is being streamed live courtesy of Courtroom View Network.
Weirick sued Johnson & Johnson over allegations asbestos in the baby powder she used caused her to develop mesothelioma, a fatal illness. The case is among the latest of hundreds of lawsuits filed by women against the baby powder maker across the country, most alleging the company’s talc powder products caused them to develop ovarian cancer.
Mesothelioma is a much rarer disease with 3,200 cases in the U.S. reported annually.
Doctors have given Weirick, 60, a former school counselor, little chance for survival.
Attanoos disputed the opinions reflected in a letter to the editor presented by Jay Steumke, an attorney for Weirick. The letter from a Toronto-based doctor linked higher risk to women from talc powder because more women used it.
Attanoos called the opinion full of “egregious errors.”
“I want to put right the record,” he said. “I’m here to talk about why talc didn’t cause Mrs. Weirick’s disease.”
Steumke displayed a graphic that read, “There is no known safe level (asbestos exposure) above background.”
Background is the amount of asbestos fibers breathed in by all people through the air that is in such low quantities it is not a threat.
“Background (levels) will vary in different parts of the U.S.,” Attanoos explained.
Mostly low levels of breathed asbestos in the air consist of short-fiber chrysotile, an asbestos related mineral, Attanoos said.
Steumke also exhibited a statement that said there is a “substantial increased risk of mesothelioma above low-dose amphibole (asbestos) exposure.”
Attanoos sought to clarify his opinion.
“I said that exposure to fibers of sufficient length above background (level) can contribute to disease,” he explained.
Asbestos fibers are needle-like in shape and sometimes appear under a microscope as bundles packed together with a length to width ratio of 5-to-1 or greater.
“Dr. (F.D.) Pooley said there was no known safe level of asbestos in talc powder?” Steumke said, referring to a researcher at Cardiff University in Wales. “You wrote a paper that said the risk (of mesothelioma) increases with cumulative dose (asbestos)?” Steumke asked.
“Yes,” Attanoos agreed.
“The higher the dose, the greater the risk?”
“That is correct,” Attanoos said.
“You understand that Mrs. Weirick was powdered as a baby?”
Steumke referred to a document.
“It says mesothelioma is almost always associated with asbestos exposure, did I read that correctly?” he asked.
“You read it correctly, but it’s scientifically incorrect,” Attanoos said.
Attanoos said the information was flawed for a number of reasons. One of the reasons that the information was flawed was that it was generated using data from occupational cohorts (workers in a particular industry).
“It was not based on science,” he said.
Attanoos also disputed that cleavage fragments, or crushed minerals in a mining operation, cause mesothelioma.
“Cleavage fragments do not cause asbestos-related disease,” he said.
On cross-examination, John Ewald, the attorney for Johnson & Johnson, asked Attanoos if science evolves.
“That is not an expert question,” Superior Court Judge Cary Nishimoto interjected.
“Science clearly evolves,” Attanoos said.
Attanoos agreed with a statement displayed by Ewald: “There is no evidence for any causative role of cosmetic talc in malignant mesothelioma.”
Attanoos said he disagreed with the opinion of Dr. Robert Cameron, a doctor at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA). He said Cameron was conflicted having financial relationships with plaintiff lawyers.
“He (Cameron) is making assumptions that baby powder contains asbestos,” Attanoos said. ‘He has not looked at the studies and has no foundation.”