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Dow Is Accused of Hiding Tests as Silicone Implant Trial Opens

March 28, 1997| From Associated Press

NEW ORLEANS — Dow Chemical Co. hid tests indicating that silicone may not be safe for use in the body, a lawyer charged Thursday at the start of the nation's first class-action trial over silicone breast implants.

"This case is about . . . values--putting safety ahead of profit," said John O'Quinn, the attorney for the eight named plaintiffs.

The company never hid anything, countered Dow Chemical attorney Lorna Propes, who said Dow Corning Corp., which made the implants, relied on hundreds of studies, the vast majority by independent scientists, that said silicone was safe.

"You must be thinking, 'Then why are we here?' " she shouted to the jury. "The answer is lawsuit science. Litigation doctors . . . make a fortune going around and testifying in breast implant cases."

The eight plaintiffs in this stage of the trial represent at least 1,260 Louisiana women who claim that Dow implants leaked or ruptured, causing health problems. The plaintiffs have not specified how much they are seeking.

Most breast-implant lawsuits were frozen when Dow Corning filed for bankruptcy protection. This one is going forward because the women sued Dow Chemical, which never made breast implants but owns half of Dow Corning, once the largest maker of silicone gel implants. Corning Inc. owns the other half.

O'Quinn accused Dow Chemical of failing to test silicone enough to prove that it was safe to use inside the body and of hiding tests and research requests indicating silicone might not be safe.

Dow Chemical has said that it never conducted any tests to see whether silicone was safe for breast implants, and that Dow Corning contracted with other companies for the tests.

Propes said doctors have known since implants were first proposed that liquid or gel silicone could seep out through the plastic covering, but that study after study have shown that silicone does not cause a specific immune reaction. What studies have found, she said, is that women with implants get sick in about the same numbers as women who have never had breast implants.

Several manufacturers proposed a national settlement in 1994 to stem an avalanche of individual lawsuits, with Dow Corning agreeing to pay $2 billion of the $4.25-billion settlement. But the settlement collapsed last year.

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