Expert says hundreds of years of exposure needed to cause asbestos disease

Marilyn Tennissen Jun. 26, 2007, 8:58am

After being named as a defendant with 42 other companies in a recent lawsuit, one company says it has experts that will show that the plaintiff would have to have received hundreds of years of asbestos exposure to contribute to his death.

The A.W. Chesterton Company answered allegations filed by Lula Delafosse on behalf of her deceased husband Louis Delafosse. Lula Delafosse named Chesterton and 42 other corporations as defendants in a suit filed May 2 in Jefferson County District Court.

Attorney Bryan Blevins of Provost Umphrey is representing the plaintiff.

Attorneys for Chesterton, which manufactures gaskets and packaging materials, filed a motion to transfer the case to Harris County on June 8. At the same time, the company, represented by Cooley Manion Jones LLP of Fort Worth, submitted its original answer to the suit and a list of expert witnesses it will call to testify if the case goes to trial.

The list of 30 expert witnesses -- ranging from radiologists and pathologists to industrial hygienists and retired Navy officers -- would generally testify concerning asbestos-related diseases and the effects of exposure to various asbestos-containing products on workers in occupational settings.

The experts agree that the dose or amount of exposure is the most significant factor in causing an asbestos-related disease.

"The risk is proportional to the dose: the greater the accumulated dose, the greater the risk. The dose is produced by various exposures accumulating over time," the document states.

The current permissible exposure level from the Occupational Safety and Health Ad ministration, published in 1994, is 0.1 fibers per cubic centimeter (f/cc) as an eight-hour time weighted average. The OSHA permissible level from 1986-1994 was 0.2 f/cc, for 1976-1986 it was 2 f/cc and in 1971-1976 it was 5 f/cc.

The dose is measured in fiber years, a number derived from the product of exposure (f/cc) over time. An individual exposed at a continuous level of 1 f/cc for 20 years will have amassed 20 fiber years of exposure, the level associated with the risk of asbestosis.

Dr. Bruce Case of the Dust Disease Research Unit at McGill University in Montreal, Canada, would testify that at the current OSHA rate, "it would take 200 years of exposure to accumulate 20 fiber years, the level associated with risk of asbestosis."

Also on the list of expert witnesses is Dr. James Crapo, a physician and professor at National Jewish Medical and Research Center in Denver, Colo., who is experienced in the fields of inhalation toxicology and epidemiology.

"It is Dr. Crapo's opinion that in the absence of long term clearance, it would take an individual hundreds or even thousands of years of working with A.W. Chesterton Company's products to approach any level of appreciable risk of asbestos-related diseases from using these gaskets or packing materials."

Dr. Crapo also disputes the results of animal studies. Injecting asbestos fibers into the lungs of animals "cannot be used to extrapolate the risk of asbestos-related disease in humans." And tests in which animals inhale asbestos fibers "do not demonstrate an increased risk of asbestos-related disease" because the conditions were not relevant to exposure experienced by humans.

Richard Lee, PhD., a microscopist and materials specialist, would call into question methods for counting asbestos fibers, including a criticism of the use of the Tyndall light, which is used in some air samplings of asbestos-containing products.

Lee claims that the stage lighting technique causes the fibers to remain airborne for a longer period of time than normal, "thereby artificially inflating fiber counts and the use of artificial lighting techniques, including so-called Tyndall lights, in asbestos product sampling does not illustrate actual respirable asbestos fibers."

The plaintiff's original petition says that Louis Delafosse was a WWII veteran that had occupational exposure to asbestos, possibly while working at John Dallinger Steel, Inc. from 1941 to 1942 and 1955 to 1983. The petition also states that he was an avid cigar smoker and died of cancer when he was 87 years old.

Many of the experts would testify to the relationship between smoking and alleged asbestos-related diseases.

Chesterton wants to strike the plaintiff's petition in its entirety because it is "so vague and ambiguous that Chesterton is unable to formulate a defense."

Case No. E179-226

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