A cell biologist told a California jury he found talc in a dying woman's lung tissue, which he believes came from Johnson & Johnson’s baby powder, according to Law360.
Ronald F. Dodson’s testimony last month is among the most damning evidence to date linking Johnson & Johnson’s talcum powder to cancer-causing asbestos and mesothelioma.
Dodson, a retired academic and expert in airborne diseases, told jurors that plaintiff Teresa E. Leavitt’s frequent use of Johnson & Johnson’s product explains why talc was found in her lungs.
"That would be the logical place where you would expect to find talc,” said Dodson, per Law360. "There was a constant statement throughout that she used Johnson & Johnson baby powder extensively and often.”
He continued, "I found no other reason or cause of the asbestos exposure."
Leavitt was diagnosed with incurable mesothelioma in 2017, as Law360 reported. She claims in her lawsuit that Johnson & Johnson failed to warn consumers about the cancer risks of talc. Her suit asserts that Johnson & Johnson could have substituted talc with less toxic cornstarch, but neglected to do so.
Doctors don’t expect Leavitt to live past this year.
For more than half a century, Johnson & Johnson has known that its talc products contain trace amounts of cancer-causing asbestos, as both the New York Times and Reuters have reported. Although the multi-billion dollar company disputes the claims, a recent battery of lawsuits reinforces the allegation that the corporation’s talcum powder causes cancer.
Johnson & Johnson's corporate owner and attorneys took turn peppering Dodson with questions at the latest trial in California, which began Jan. 7.
Dodson testified that Leavitt’s tissues could still contain Johnson & Johnson’s talc even though she stopped using product approximately 20 years ago, as Law360 reported. After talc is inhaled, it can get "translocated" and stored in the lymph system, explained Dodson, who co-authored the book "Asbestos Risk Assessment Epidemiology and Health Effects.”
Attempting to discredit Dodson, Johnson & Johnson’s attorney, Mike Brown of Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough LLP, argued that the cell biologist isn’t a talc expert or medical doctor, and repeatedly objected to his testimony.
However, Alameda County Superior Court Judge Brad Seligman overruled the objections, permitting Dodson to continue.
Still, attorneys for the mining companies that own Johnson & Johnson tried to poke holes in Dodson’s testimony. They asked why he didn’t look for asbestos in Leavitt's lung tissue, and noted that Leavitt's tissue also contained traces of minerals like copper and titanium.
Dodson responded that the concentration of those minerals was “very small.” While Dodson conceded that studies show many people have some talc in their lungs, he told the attorneys that Leavitt’s use of Johnson & Johnson’s product was much higher than the typical person’s usage.
"There was a constant statement throughout that she used Johnson & Johnson baby powder extensively and often," Dodson maintained. "I found no other reason or cause of the asbestos exposure."
After Dodson’s testimony, Rutgers University researcher Alice M. Blount testified in a video that she found traces of asbestos in Johnson & Johnson baby powder in the early 1990s.
The case represents the latest of Johnson’s & Johnson’s legal woes over allegations of cancer-causing asbestos in its talc products. Last summer, 22 women who claimed Johnson & Johnson’s talcum baby powder caused their ovarian cancer won a $4.69-billion verdict.
Seven California woman are now suing to force Johnson & Johnson to add a talcum powder warning label to its products. Filed in U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, the case alleges Johnson & Johnson violated the state’s Unfair Competition Law, False Advertising Law and Proposition 65, which requires a consumer cancer warning label.