An industrial hygienist testifying on behalf of Georgia Pacific in a Madison County asbestos trial said that use of the company's joint compound did not pose a significant risk to the plaintiff - a Kansas carpenter who suffers from mesothelioma.
Defense witness Robert Adams was the only one to take the stand on Wednesday in the rare asbestos trial now into its second week in Associate Judge Stephen Stobbs' court.
Plaintiff James Reef of Kansas filed his suit in December 2012 against dozens of companies that made, sold or distributed asbestos-containing products including Georgia Pacific, the only defendant to take the case to trial.
Reef, 69, began carpentry in 1965 at the age of 19 and claims he spent 50 percent of his time working on drywall using Georgia Pacific’s joint compound paste.
Reef alleges the joint compound he used contained asbestos, which led to his mesothelioma, diagnosed in October 2012.
Adams testified that it is impossible to separate asbestos fibers from other fibers in joint compound products, but certain asbestos fibers are more potent and dangerous than others. He said that Chrysotile fibers, those most commonly used, are the safest and are generally expelled from the body quickly.
Chrysotile fibers are “less potent in inducing asbestos exposure diseases, particularly mesothelioma,” Adams said under questioning by defense attorney Jeffrey Hebrank of HeplerBroom in Edwardsville.
Over time, Adams said the government grouped all fiber types together as a precaution and issued regulations for asbestos in general. But, he said, long, thin fibers are more potent than short fibers.
Adams also addressed the amount of exposure he calculated for Reef over his career. He claimed that while Reef worked with drywall 50 percent of the time over his 20 year career, most of that exposure was indirect.
He concluded that direct exposure to asbestos while manipulating joint compound added up to approximately two months of actual, real exposure. He then concluded that Reef’s work with insulation added to one year of exposure as he worked directly with the insulation and it was more potent.
“He had no substantial or significant risk from being around Georgia Pacific’s joint compound,” Adams said.
Ethan Flint of Flint & Associates, for the plaintiff, addressed Adams next, taking issue with Adams’s report, which resulted in constant head-butting.
Flint clarified that Reef worked with drywall 50 percent of the time for 20 years, adding up to 10 years, He questioned how Adams calculated exposure to two months out of 10 years.
Adams began to answer why he discarded the rest of the time when Flint stopped him and demanded yes or no answers, which Stobbs affirmed.
“I discounted it,” Adams ended up answering.
Flint asked how Adams arrived at one year of exposure with only three weeks of working with insulation.
Adams responded by saying he used the discovery deposition because it “included more details” to allow a more thorough report,
Flint countered stating that the evidence deposition should have been used as that was the one where Reef was under oath.
Flint also addressed Adams’s claim that Chrysotile is a less potent type of asbestos.
“It’s not a little less potent,” Adams stated. “It’s a lot less potent.”
Adams continued to explain that government regulation policy was a mere suggestion in place as a precaution, but there was not actual scientific backing for regulations.
Flint responded by asking again whether the government considers all types of asbestos dangerous. Adams affirmed and said all types are considered risky, according to the federal government.
In re-direct, Adams told Hebrank that he assumed Reef’s deposition to be true regardless of whether it was the evidence or discovery deposition.
Following Adams's testimony, jurors were given the opportunity to ask their own questions.
Adams clarified that the same percentage of asbestos is expected in the dust as would be found in the product.
He also stated that air tests and exposure measurements could have been performed in the 1960s and 1970s to determine the hazards surrounding use of asbestos, even though Georgia Pacific didn’t perform any tests on its joint compound. The methods and technology would have been less refined, but it was possible, he said.
He concluded by stating that conditions should be considering when looking at dangers surrounding Chrysotile. He said he wouldn’t recommend anyone expose themselves to unsafe levels of Chrysotile asbestos every day.