LOS ANGELES – Plaintiffs concluded their witness testimony and the defense called their first witness on Wednesday - a Welsh pathologist who told a jury that Carolyn Weirick did not acquire mesothelioma from using Johnson & Johnson baby powder.
“In your opinion did any use she (Weirick) made of Johnson & Johnson baby powder contribute to or cause her mesothelioma?” Chris Vejnoska the attorney for Johnson & Johnson asked.
“Any (powder) exposure Mrs. Weirick may have had did not contribute to or cause her malignant mesothelioma,” answered Dr. Richard L. Attanoos, a U.K.-based researcher and medical doctor for University Hospital and Cardiff University in Wales. “This arose as a spontaneous cancer.”
Attanoos testified that the great majority of mesothelioma cases in women developed spontaneously, unrelated to exposure from talc powder use.
Coverage of the trial is being streamed courtesy of Courtroom View Network.
Weirick is suing Johnson & Johnson for the baby powder and an adult product called Shower to Shower she claimed contained asbestos causing her to develop mesothelioma, a rare terminal illness. Other women suing the powder maker in hundreds of cases across the country have mostly alleged the baby powder caused them to develop ovarian cancer.
Attanoos said he had studied mesothelioma for 30 years specializing in diagnosing tissue both from live patients and autopsies. He reviewed 40 percent of mesothelioma cases in the U.K., which has the highest rate of the disease in the world.
In the U.S., he said there are 3,200 cases of mesothelioma per year. The U.K. with a lower population has 2,000 per year.
“Why is the U.K. a hot spot?” Vejnoska asked.
“Because there are differences in the type of asbestos used in the two countries,” Attanoos said. “There is also a difference in the continuation of the asbestos that was used. We (England) used a particularly potent form of asbestos (crocidolite and amosite) in commercial forms, and we continued to use it into the 1980s. The U.S. had the good sense to stop using these potent forms of commercial asbestos.”
Attanoos, who is being paid $500 per hour to testify as a witness for Johnson & Johnson, published numerous articles and a book on the subject of mesothelioma.
He said he studied Weirick’s case looking at her medical records, pathology slides and deposition testimony including that of her mother, Leilani.
The defense in this and former J&J baby powder trials contended the women contracted cancer because of inherited family histories of the disease and not from using baby powder.
“Does she have a family history of cancer?” Vejnoska asked.
“Yes she does,” Attanoos said.
“What are the possible causes of mesothelioma in women?” Vejnoska asked.
“The same as men,” Attanoos replied. “There is amphibole (rock-forming silicate) asbestos. That’s important if there is evidence of commercial amphibole asbestos; also from radiation in sufficient doses. There are also rare minerals that are very potent like erionite, which historically we thought was confined only to Turkey.”
Attanoos said asbestos occurs everywhere in the air we breathe and the water we drink but in such low concentrations poses no health threat. He added that assuming asbestos exposure in a domestic environment like household use---the latency period between exposure and developing a tumor would have to be very long perhaps 50 years.
The disease he indicated is much more common in occupational settings like a factory, mine or mill.
“It (mesothelioma) is an occupational disease,” Attanoos said.
He disagreed with the earlier testimony of a witness for the plaintiff who said spontaneous development of mesothelioma in women was a low percentage of the cases.
Under cross examination by Werick’s attorney Jay Stuemke, Attanoos was asked if he believed that if her talc powder contained tremolite and anthophyllite, minerals that can contain asbestos, that it would play a zero role in her mesothelioma.
“That’s correct in my opinion based on the scientific literature,” Attanoos said.
“Will Carolyn Weirick’s mesothelioma cause her death?” Stuemke asked.
“Most likely sir,” Attanoos answered.
“It’s a very unpleasant disease to die from,” Stuemke observed.
“I would not disagree,” Attanoos said.
Stuemke questioned Attanoos about an asbestos litigation defense lawyer named Bruce Bishop he had met in 2011, who represented an asbestos mining company, also a joint compound manufacturer of asbestos.
“Before you met Mr. Bishop you had never given testimony in an American asbestos related case, correct?” Stuemke asked.
“That is correct,” Attanoos said.
“He (Bishop) had literature with him that was based on corporate funding of research, by defendants in asbestos litigation cases like this, correct?” Stuemke asked.
“No sir, I wouldn’t say I was aware of that because I did not review all that information that he (Bishop) brought with him," Attanoos said. "Some of the literature fell within the category of funded work. All research requires funding.”
“You started testifying for his (Bishop’s) asbestos company, correct?” Stuemke asked.
“Yes sir I did,” Attanoos said.
“Today you spend about 50 percent of your time working as an expert for the defense in American asbestos litigation matters, correct?” Stuemke asked.
“Yes sir, it has substantially increased,” Attanoos said.
“You’re going to bill Johnson & Johnson $20,000 for coming here and going back, correct?” Stuemke asked.
“Yes,” Attanoos agreed.
“You agree there is a substantive increased risk of mesothelioma after a very low dose of amphibole (asbestos related fiberous rock) exposure?” Stuemke asked.
“Yes, that is related to commercial forms of amphibole asbestos,” Attanoos said.
Stuemke exhibited a number of study papers concerning mesothelioma that made no mention of cosmetic talc powder.
“There is no evidence talc causes mesothelioma in the literature----cosmetic talc,” Attanoos said.
“We’ll get there,” Stuemke responded.