Northern California Record

Friday, October 18, 2019

Johnson & Johnson attorneys cite negative findings of asbestos in mesothelioma trial

State Court

By John Sammon | Sep 18, 2019


TORRANCE – Attorneys defending Johnson & Johnson on Tuesday cited test findings and statements by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to conclude there was no asbestos in baby powder that a woman claimed caused her mesothelioma.

“Were you aware of FDA testing in 2009?” John Ewald, the attorney for Johnson & Johnson, asked witness John Hopkins.

“Yes,” answered Hopkins, former research director for Johnson & Johnson from 1976 to 2000.

“Did they detect any asbestos?”

“They (FDA) did not detect any asbestos in any of the Johnson & Johnson products,” Hopkins said.

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

Plaintiff Carolyn Weirick sued Johnson & Johnson claiming that the baby powder she used for 40 years, as well as an adult product called Shower to Shower, caused her to develop mesothelioma, a deadly cancer of the linings of the lungs. After a superior court jury in Pasadena deadlocked in September 2018, the case was moved to the Los Angeles Superior Court in Torrance and resumed last week.

Weirick’s suit is one of hundreds of pending lawsuits mostly filed by women claiming the talc powder products caused them to develop ovarian cancer. Lawsuits alleging mesothelioma, a much rarer disease, have become more numerous in recent months.

Hopkins, considered a top corporate spokesman for Johnson & Johnson, appeared as a witness for a second week of testimony.

Ewald sought to discredit the findings of Rutgers University asbestos researcher Dr. Alice Blount. Blount is often cited by plaintiff attorneys after she reported finding asbestos in the Johnson & Johnson baby powder in the 1990s using a new testing method called concentration. The method involved using heavy liquid in a tube spun at high speed to separate talc powder from heavier materials.

Critics of the company said Johnson & Johnson should have used the concentration method while company officials said they declined because it was ineffective.

Ewald noted a discrepancy between the number of tests of talc powder mined in Vermont which Blount claimed to have performed in the 1990s (three), and what had been reported on a published paper (five tests).

“The key (paper) does not relate to the tests she (Blount) did,” Hopkins agreed.

Ewald displayed a letter from Blount in 1998 stating that trace amounts of asbestos had been found in the baby powder that were below levels specified as dangerous by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

“What was the result of testing?” Ewald asked.

“Zero,” Hopkins answered. “The J&J sample had zero (asbestos) fibers.”

Hopkins indicated Blount later said in a letter she had found asbestos in the baby powder but it did not comport with the test findings.

Additional testing performed by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health and Harvard University in the 1970s from three Vermont mining sites testing more than 400 talc samples turned up no asbestos, Hopkins also said.

In 1994, a citizen’s petition was sent to the FDA requesting that a warning label be placed on bottles of baby powder.

“What was the FDA response to the petition request?” Ewald asked.

“They (FDA) could find no basis for a health hazard attributable to cosmetic talk,” Hopkins said. “They said there was no need for a warning label.”

In addition, Ewald exhibited documents stating that significant improvements had been made to baby powder in the 1970s and that levels of asbestos would be so low as to not present a health hazard.

“It says even if there was asbestos in the talc, it would be no different than background levels (the same amount everyone breathes in the air),” Hopkins said.

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