Northern California Record

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

J&J undercuts testimony of plaintiff's star witness in ongoing trial over alleged asbestos in baby powder

State Court

By John Sammon | Sep 23, 2019

Babypowder

TORRANCE – Attorneys for Johnson & Johnson on Friday again attempted to undercut the testimony of a plaintiff witness using his own prior words against him, but Dr. William Longo maintained researchers found unacceptable levels of asbestos in talc powder.

“It was one to three fibers per CC,” Longo said. “It was a significant exposure.”

“Have you seen any evidence there was any other (asbestos) exposure to Mrs. (Carolyn) Weirick other than talc powder?” Jay Steumke, the attorney for plaintiff Weirick, asked.

“No,” Longo said.

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

The trial is to determine if Johnson & Johnson Baby Powder allegedly tainted with asbestos caused Carolyn Weirick to develop mesothelioma, a deadly cancer of the linings of the lungs. Weirick, a former school counselor, reportedly used the baby powder and an adult product called Shower to Shower for 40 years. Doctors give her little chance for survival.

The case is one of hundreds pending across the country against Johnson & Johnson, most filed by women claiming the allegedly asbestos-tainted powder caused them to develop ovarian cancer. Mesothelioma is much rarer with 3,200 cases reported in the U.S. annually, although lawsuits alleging the disease have become more common in recent months.

Longo, who has served as an important plaintiff expert witness in past talc powder trials, appeared for a third day of testimony.

Warrington Parker, an attorney defending Johnson & Johnson, gained agreement from Longo that the company had exceeded industry testing standards during the 1970s using high-powered microscopes.

Parker also said Longo at the time complimented the McCrone Group, a materials testing lab in Illinois that has supplied expert witnesses for Johnson & Johnson in recent trials, claiming no asbestos in the baby powder had been found.

“You said literally it (McCrone) was the best lab in the country,” Parker said.

“That’s what I said then,” Longo agreed.

Parker asked Longo if his Georgia-based MAS lab had been audited by the Food & Drug Administration (FDA).

“Correct,” Longo said.

"The FDA identified deficiencies, correct?” Parker asked.

“They called them objectionable practices,” Longo said.

Parker asked Longo if the FDA audit identified contamination at the lab. Longo said it was simply a bureaucratic error in that forms had not been signed and an unopened container was found.

“You would agree attorneys for Johnson & Johnson asked you under oath about your lab that was found to be (FDA) un-compliant?” Parker asked. 

“Correct.”

“You provided some information and then said that’s all I’m going to talk about?”

“Correct.”

Parker said added information had been gained under the Freedom of Information Act. Longo agreed.

On cross-examination, Steumke asked Longo if Johnson & Johnson officials had done air testing of its talc powder products.

“I don’t recall any,” Longo said.

Longo said testing of the air around products thought to possibly contain asbestos involve a tester for example applying baby powder to his chest and armpits while wearing an oxygen respirator.  Air samples are then taken and analyzed under a microscope.

Asbestos fibers appear under a microscope as usually long and thin, needle-like in shape, and have properties like high tensile strength and flexibility, which made them valuable as building materials.   

“What type of fibers did you find (J&J baby powder)?” Steumke asked.

“Tremolite and anthophyllite (asbestos-related minerals),” Longo said.

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