Pulmonologist testimony continues
The testimony of Dr. Alan Whitehouse, a pulmonologist from Spokane who brought attention to the abnormally high rates of asbestos related disease in Libby, continued Wednesday afternoon as Whitehouse was questioned by the prosecutor, Kris McLean.
Whitehouse was admitted as an expert witness, and so was allowed to testify about the medical implications of exposure to asbestos. He described asbestos fibers as microscopic needles that, “when inhaled… actually penetrate the wall of the air sacs and then penetrate to the outer chest wall in time.” Specific conditions discussed by Whitehouse included fluid in the lung, the scarring of lung tissue, and plaques on the pleural lining of the lung.
Whitehouse described the significance of these plaques, commonly observed in people with nascent asbestos-related disease. “You need to think about plaque as the initial stage of a progression that leads to severe interstitial disease and then death,” he said.
He described the progressive thickening of the pleural lining as making the lung behave “more like an orange peel than a balloon,” limiting a patient’s ability to exhale. “Basically it’s like having someone tie a strap around your chest,” Whitehouse said.
McLean asked Whitehouse to describe the progression of asbestos-related disease in specific cases from Libby. These included a woman, diagnosed with mesothelioma, who lived outside of town and whose only exposure to asbestos was when she would come into Libby one or two times a week to shop. Whitehouse also described the case of a patient who worked at a chiropractor’s office in Libby and was exposed to dust from the work clothes of Grace employees. She developed mesothelioma as well.
Finally, Whitehouse testified to the rarity of mesothelioma in the United States. Mesothelioma is a form of cancer specifically associated with asbestos exposure. The cancer refers to malignant cells that appear in the mesothelium, a protective lining that covers many of the body’s internal organs. The disease, Whitehouse said, is generally fatal.
“In Libby we have the highest mesothelioma rate in the nation,” Whitehouse said, “and it’s strictly due to how much asbestos is floating around.”
McLean’s last question, answered by Whitehouse over the objections of defense counsel David Bernick, concerned the future of the asbestos related disease epidemic in Libby.
“I don’t think we’ll see the last of this prior to twenty, thirty years from now,” Whitehouse said.
Cross-examination of Whitehouse by the defense will commence after an early afternoon break.
–Daniel Doherty (posted 4:41)