Microscope researcher says asbestos found in both Johnson & Johnson and Colgate-Palmolive products

By John Sammon | May 1, 2019

ALAMEDA (Legal Newsline) – A microscope researcher on Tuesday told a jury his lab had found asbestos in both Johnson & Johnson baby powder and a face powder product for adults called Cashmere Bouquet produced by Colgate-Palmolive.

Attorneys for plaintiff Patricia Schmitz also sought to portray company officials as being concerned that new analyzing technology introduced in the 1970s could lead to testing of their products that was “too sensitive,” and threaten their business by revealing asbestos.

“Do you have an opinion whether Johnson & Johnson (powder) contains asbestos?” Joseph Satterley, Schmitz’s attorney, asked.

“I do,” responded Dr. William Longo, Georgia-based materials analyst with the MAS lab and a witness expert called by plaintiff attorneys. “It does.”

Longo said the Cashmere Bouquet powder also contained asbestos.

The trial in the Alameda Superior Court is being streamed live courtesy of Courtroom View Network.

Schmitz is suing Johnson & Johnson and Colgate-Palmolive for the baby powder she used for 40 years claiming it caused her to develop mesothelioma, a rare form of cancer of the linings of the lungs.

The case is one of hundreds pending in which Johnson & Johnson stands accused of selling baby powder tainted with asbestos. Most of the suits filed by women have contended the baby powder caused them to develop ovarian cancer, though numbers of mesothelioma cases are on the rise.  

Longo has been a frequent witness expert for plaintiffs in past asbestos trials. He said his company had tested 400,000 samples for the presence of asbestos over a 30-year period using high-powered microscopes like the polarized light microscope (PLM).

Satterley asked Longo if he had an opinion on Schmitz’s exposure.

“Yes,” Longo said. “She was exposed to asbestos from these two products (J&J baby powder and Cashmere Bouquet).”

A type of pre-screening of talc called “concentration” using heavy liquid separation techniques developed in the 1970s, Longo said, allowed for greater sensitivity in spotting asbestos. Heavy liquid is placed in a tube with talc and spun at high speed. The talc rises to the top of the tube and the heavier minerals sink to the bottom. The heavier materials can then be placed on a filter and analyzed by microscope.

Johnson & Johnson officials declined to use the liquid separation method saying they didn’t believe it was effective.

Longo agreed that use of the concentration method is not effective for spotting one type of asbestos called chrysotile because that mineral has the same density as talc and floats to the top of the tube with the talc.

Microscope viewing of samples has a detection limit, below which smaller amounts of asbestos called trace amounts can’t be seen. Adding the use of the concentration technique for most types of asbestos detection Longo explained increases the sensitivity of the sample analysis.

Satterley exhibited a Johnson & Johnson letter from the 1970s that called the use of the liquid separation a “disturbing proposal.”

“It looks like the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) is getting into separation and isolation methods,” the letter read, “which will mean new concentration procedures open up new problems with asbestos and talc minerals.”

Longo likened the concentration technique to looking for a needle in a haystack and being able to get the hay out of the way to see the needle.

Talc is a mineral used to make baby powder and was mined in Italy, Vermont and later Korea.

“Did you find asbestos in Vermont talc?” Satterley asked.

“We have,” Longo responded.

Longo was critical of the McCrone Group, a testing lab based in Illinois that defense attorneys have frequently cited for reports they said show no asbestos in the J&J baby powder. Longo indicated no system is infallible and a report of no asbestos does not mean there isn’t any asbestos in a sample. It just means no asbestos was detected by the testing method used. 

“I have been critical of McCrone, they changed reports and said they never found asbestos,” Longo said. “You can’t say anything is asbestos-free, pure, all you can say is here is the method we used.”

Longo questioned inter-company letters stating that Johnson & Johnson was exploring efforts to suppress asbestos in its product.

“Why do you need to suppress asbestos if it’s not in the product?” he said.

Longo said that researcher Dr. Alice Blount in the 1990s using the heavy liquid separation method had also found asbestos in the J&J baby powder.

He also said 68 percent of samples (J&J) tested positive for asbestos and the remaining 32 percent it couldn’t be certain were asbestos-free, but no asbestos had been detected from the testing used. Of 38 Cashmere Bouquet samples 30 tested positive for asbestos, Longo added.

Defense attorneys took over questioning of Longo late in the day attempting to portray him as a highly paid mouthpiece for plaintiff attorneys.

“You’ve just told this jury under oath you only started analyzing talc two years ago?” Longo was asked.

Longo responded, “two-and-a-half years.”

“You never tested cosmetic talc when you weren’t being paid by plaintiff attorneys?”

“That’s correct,” Longo said.

Longo agreed his firm had been paid $1 million per year in court cases.

“You’re not a geologist?”

“I don’t have a (geology) degree,” Longo responded.

“No government agency has asked you to test cosmetic talc?”

“That’s correct,” Longo said.

“You’ve testified for plaintiff attorneys several thousand times?”

“That’s probably correct.”

Longo agreed that no government agency had adopted the heavy liquid separation (concentration) method of testing talc.

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