OAKLAND – A top witness for Johnson & Johnson in a trial in which the company is accused of causing a woman’s mesothelioma along with Colgate-Palmolive on Wednesday denied the company had behaved badly in defending the use of talc powder.
“We’ve heard about a memo (internal J&J document) that talked about going to battle and being ruthless (defending talc powder). Did you ever act ruthless?” John Hopkins was asked by defendant attorneys.
“No way,” Hopkins responded.
“Did you direct any of your (J&J) colleagues to be ruthless?”
“No, never,” Hopkins said.
The trial in the Alameda Superior Court is being streamed live courtesy of Courtroom View Network.
Plaintiff Patricia Schmitz is suing Johnson & Johnson and Colgate-Palmolive over allegations the baby powder she used and a face powder called Cashmere Bouquet caused her to develop mesothelioma, a deadly cancer of the linings of the lungs.
Schmitz, 61, a former school teacher and mother of two with grandchildren, is unlikely to survive more than a few months, doctors say.
The case is one of hundreds pending against Johnson & Johnson across the country, most filed by women alleging the talc powder caused them to develop ovarian cancer. In recent months more cases involving mesothelioma, a much rarer disease, have been heard in court.
Hopkins is a toxicologist who was head of quality and safety control for Johnson & Johnson from 1976 to 2000. Today he runs his own toxics consulting firm in the United Kingdom.
He was questioned about the origin and nature of J&J documents, most dating from the 1970s, that monitored the production of baby powder using talc, a mined mineral.
Hopkins said he viewed thousands of documents during his tenure with Johnson & Johnson and was tasked with ensuring the safety of the product.
Joseph Satterley, Schmitz's attorney, asked Hopkins if he was ever a documents custodian for the company.
“It was not your job to maintain the documents,” Satterley said.
“You were not trying to identify whether asbestos was present in the talc?”
“No, I’m not a microscopist,” Hopkins said. “My job was to ensure the (product) safety.”
Satterley asked Hopkins if back in the 1970s he ever thought he would appear as a witness in an asbestos baby powder trial.
“No never, not in my wildest dreams did I ever think I would be sitting here,” Hopkins answered.
A researcher in the 1990s, Alice Blount, claimed she had detected asbestos fibers in Johnson & Johnson baby powder using a technique of talc testing developed in the 1970s called heavy liquid separation. Johnson & Johnson officials declined to use the method, which spins talc powder in heavy liquid to separate talc from heavier materials to be studied under a microscope.
J&J officials said the method was ineffective. However, critics of the company have alleged the officials were afraid of what the more-thorough testing might find.
“When you were head of talc safety in the 1990s, Alice Blount had published a (scientific) paper,” Satterley said.
“Yes,” Hopkins agreed.
“You knew in 1998 that Dr. Blount had written to J&J lawyers telling them there was asbestos in the baby powder, correct?” Satterley asked.
“She made that claim,” Hopkins said.
“Did you act on that letter in 1998?”
“Yes,” Hopkins said.
“Had you called Alice Blount?”
Under further questioning, Hopkins said he had no personal interaction during his tenure at Johnson & Johnson with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
He added he had never visited talc mines in Pakistan or Korea. Talc powder for use in J&J baby powder was also mined in Italy, Vermont and China.
“You’ve never used a scanning electron microscope to evaluate talc?” Satterley asked.
“No,” Hopkins said.
“You’re not an expert on how to remove asbestos from particles of talc?”
“I’m not here as an expert on that topic,” Hopkins said.