Thursday, June 01, 2023

Hamster studies take spotlight in Grace trial

by Laura L. Lundquist & University of Montana
| March 19, 2009 12:00 AM

A former chemist employed by W.R. Grace & Co. took the stand Wednesday – and he probably never wants to hear about hamsters again.

Defense attorneys David Krakoff and Carolyn Kubota questioned Heyman Duecker during cross-examination for information on various studies, letters and memos. Duecker, a quiet man in his late 70s, tried to do his best when asked to recognize many documents written more than 30 years ago.

Much of Krakoff’s questioning was centered on the studies done by William Smith, an independent scientist who conducted animal studies involving chemical exposure. Smith had conducted experiments on hamsters using different doses and different types of asbestos – depending on which company consulted him.

Smith wrote many letters to Duecker telling him about the ongoing results of the study using Libby tremolite, data he found from other studies and the fact an asbestos conference would be held in 1977. The conference featured research on fibrous and particulate asbestos dust and resultant mortality and morbidity in workers. Smith had pointed out in his letter that tremolite was to be the primary mineral discussed.

The defense brought out some evidence that didn’t seem to support their case, such as the fact that Smith had found mesothelioma in hamsters subjected to the Libby tremolite and that Smith was going to present his hamster study results at the asbestos conference. At the same time, Smith didn’t think that he should include the data from the Grace study.

The other study results, which were contracted by different companies, specifically R.T. Vanderbilt, were based upon hamsters receiving tremolite from other parts of the country and showed no tumors. But with the Libby tremolite, Smith had found a dose-related response, meaning that the greater the amount of tremolite, the greater the chance of tumors appearing.

Kevin M. Cassidy asked Duecker to describe a wet mill in Libby that opened in 1973.

“Since you were studying tremolite after the wet mill opened, was that because the wet mill hadn’t solved the problem?” Cassidy asked.

The question brought defense attorneys to their feet with various objections, which Molloy agreed with. The defense chorus arose again when Cassidy tried to ask Duecker if he thought it would have helped everyone’s understanding if Grace’s hamster results had been included in Smith’s findings, but this time Molloy allowed the question.

However, Duecker said that he didn’t know what actually ended up happening with Smith’s findings, either internally in Grace or if they were published elsewhere ,so he couldn’t speak to that.

Duecker had not attended that 1977 asbestos conference.

Finally, Cassidy asked, “Do you know why Smith didn’t want to include the Grace results in his report?” to which Duecker answered, “No.”