Plaintiff expert witness says asbestos in talc powder caused woman’s disease

By John Sammon | Jan 15, 2019

ALAMEDA – An expert witness called by the attorney for plaintiff Terry Leavitt left little doubt that he believed the woman’s exposure to Johnson & Johnson baby powder caused her to contract mesothelioma.

“Have you formed an opinion whether asbestos in the talc powder caused her (Leavitt’s) mesothelioma?” plaintiff attorney Joseph Satterley asked.

“Lab tests indicate amphiboles as well as fibrous talc,” responded Ronald F. Dodson, a researcher formerly with Texas University specializing in biological and electron microscopy.

“You believe this caused it (mesothelioma)?”

“I do,” Dodson said.

The trial now in its second week is being streamed live courtesy of Courtroom View Network.

Mesothelioma, a rare form of cancer of the linings of the lungs, is incurable and fatal.

Leavitt, the mother of two daughters, is suing Johnson & Johnson and its talc powder supplier Imerys America for allegedly causing her disease arguing that asbestos was in its baby powder. During trial testimony it was stated Leavitt had used the baby powder daily for a period of 20 years up to the 1990s.

Mesothelioma is noted as having a potentially long “latency period,” in that inhaling asbestos fibers can take 20 years to develop illness.

During Monday’s session defense attorney Michael Brown asked Dodson if he had stayed abreast of scientific literature relating to mesothelioma for many years?

“Yes,” Dodson responded.

Brown, as defense attorneys have in similar trials, attempted to blunt the impact of Dodson’s expertise by asking him to confirm what occupations in asbestos-related research he was not.

“You’re not a medical doctor?” Brown asked.

“No,” Dodson said.

“You’re not a treater of patients, fair?”

“Fair,” Dodson said.

“You’re not an expert in mining and milling?”

“I’m not,” Dodson said.

“You’re not an industrial hygienist?”

Dodson said although not certified he had a license indicating equivalent knowledge.

“You’re not a licensed environmental scientist?”

“No.”

Brown referred to a lab test of a sample of Leavitt’s tissues done under an electron microscope magnified 15,000 times that had found no asbestos fibers though it had found some talc fibers.

Dodson agreed people could have talc fibers in their lungs who didn’t use baby powder. Brown asked if the miners who dug talc rock to be turned into baby powder and the millers who crushed the rock had different kinds of exposure from cosmetic talc use.

“Yes, but they both constitute heavy exposure,” Dodson noted. “She (Leavitt) was using it all day long for 20 years.”

“You can’t say where the talc particles came from?” Brown asked.

“They don’t have a label on them,” Dodson said.

On re-direct, Dodson told Satterley in reviewing prior testimony taken in filmed depositions from Leavitt’s family members and friends her exposure to baby powder was the major element.

“She used Johnson & Johnson extensively,” he said.

“What is your opinion of the cause of Mrs. Leavitt’s mesothelioma?” Satterley asked.

“From my prospective it is consistent with exposure to talc in Johnson & Johnson baby powder,” Dodson answered. “This was probed in great detail. I haven’t seen an alternative.”

But under cross examination, Brown raised the possibility the mesothelioma had not been related to Johnson & Johnson powder use but could have been a spontaneous event from other causes. He also related that Leavitt had lived for a number of years near a mineral processing plant that was crushing vermiculite, a silicate mineral used for roofing, fire-proofing and insulation.

“Have you ever written an article that says fibrous talc causes mesothelioma?” Brown asked. “You can’t say talc fibers by themselves cause disease?”

Dodson said he knew of no specific studies on the issue but the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) considered such fibers to be carcinogens.

“The World Health Organization considers it a cancer-causer,” Dodson said.

Under re-direct, Satterley questioned Dodson about talc retention in the human body noting that the topic had been insufficiently studied. An acompanying slide read, “Talc is known to cause the release of cytokines chemokines and growth factors from pleural mesothelial cells.”

“Was that reported by IARC?” Satterley asked.

“Yes,” Dodson answered.

“Is it significant in your view?”

“It is significant it showed that plated talc causes a disruption of the homeostasis iron in mesothelial cells,” Dodson said. “It’s pretty significant stuff.”

Satterley, recalling Brown’s contention that studies had shown 95 percent of mesotheliomas in women were spontaneous in nature, asked Dodson if a history of cosmetic talc use had been taken into consideration in the findings.

“I don’t think I’ve seen that in any of the studies,” Dodson said.

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