Take one deliberately undercooked cancer experiment, publish a scientific paper to promote its academically ridiculed findings, and go on a world tour to publicise its conclusions, and what do you get? In the case of Dr David Bernstein, the asbestos industry’s go-to scientist, the answer is several million dollars.
For the Switzerland-based US toxicologist (right), his role as the chief scientific propagandist for the asbestos industry worldwide has been as lucrative as it has been suspect.
One 2003 study alone was financed with $1 million from the Chrysotile Institute, at the time the lead body for the industry lobby worldwide.1 It formed the basis of what David Egilman, editor-in-chief of the International Journal of Occupational and Environmental Health (IJOEH), called the asbestos industry’s enduring ABC – Anything But Chrysotile – myth.2 The Bernstein paper argued that because chrysotile was less “biopersistent” than other forms of asbestos, it could be used safely.
No matter that the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC)3 and scientists not in the pay of the industry believe that all forms of asbestos, including chrysotile, are unquestionably human carcinogens.
The industry though needed to convince the world that chrysotile was different. Its survival plan required it to defend chrysotile markets and that meant questioning the cancer link. Big Asbestos has nowhere else to go - for two decades chrysotile has been the only form of asbestos traded. It has comprised 95 per cent of all asbestos used over the past century.
So the industry embarked on a four step strategy to give chrysotile asbestos a clean bill of health.
1. Buy some evidence
Following publication of the $1m paper in 2003, Bernstein’s relationship with the chrysotile – asbestos – industry flourished. More papers followed on the biopersistence theme, backed by the International Chrysotile Association (ICA). The companies chipped in too. He banked $850,000 for papers produced for just one asbestos defendant, Georgia Pacific (Hazards 124).
Bernstein maintains that chrysotile is all but harmless if used under controlled conditions. But his views are at odds with accepted scientific opinion, something even Bernstein conceded. Under cross examination in an October 2007 US court case, he was asked by Richard Nemeroff, an asbestos victim’s attorney: “In all the years… since you published your work, nobody, not one scientific organisation, not one scientific body, not one government, not one agency, not one anyone has accepted your view of chrysotile as you’ve explained it to this jury today; isn’t that correct?”
Bernstein responded: “That is correct.”
For the companies bankrolling Bernstein’s work, it was pure economics. In early 2005, US building products manufacturer Georgia Pacific had found itself facing nearly $1 billion in chrysotile-related disease liabilities. A $6 million investment in helpful research made cash sense.
CAPTURED! It’s not just the asbestos industry that maintains helpful friends in the scientific community. Vociferous critics of the European Union’s plans to tighten regulation of endocrine disrupting chemicals, including Konstanz University professor Daniel Dietrich, turned out in 2013 to have undeclared industry ties. more
After the Georgia Pacific project, Bernstein was paid about $200,000 by ICA to revisit the issue. This result was a 2013 paper in the journal Critical Reviews in Toxicology.4 While admitting “heavy and prolonged exposure to chrysotile can produce lung cancer,” it concluded: “The importance of the present and other similar reviews is that the studies they report show that low exposures to chrysotile do not present a detectable risk to health. Since total dose over time decides the likelihood of disease occurrence and progression, they also suggest that the risk of an adverse outcome may be low with even high exposures experienced over a short duration.”
It was a very familiar refrain. A 2006 paper in the journal Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology,5 again with Bernstein as the lead author, reached an uncannily similar conclusion. “The value of the present and other similar studies is that they show that low exposures to pure chrysotile do not present a detectable risk to health. Since total dose over time decides the likelihood of disease occurrence and progression, they also suggest that the risk of an adverse outcome may be low if even any high exposures experienced were of short duration.”
This paper was reproduced on the website of the Chrysotile Institute – which, in its previous guise as the Asbestos Institute, co-financed the work.
STUDY DISSECTED David Bernstein said his rat experiments proved low level exposures to chrysotile or high level exposures for short periods “do not present a detectable risk to health.” But his experiments were seriously flawed and ran for just five days, not the two years recommended for studies of cancer risks from fibres.
Critics believe the research started with its off-the-shelf conclusion, distancing chrysotile from the now commercially irrelevant other forms of asbestos, then engineered the evidence to fit. David Egilman and others have eviscerated, in court and in print, the laboratory rat experiments undertaken by Bernstein to underpin his almost universally derided opinion.
Egilman, rebutting a defence of Bernstein’s work by UK professor Ken Donaldson, points out the standard protocol for testing fibres for carcinogenicity in humans is a two-year animal inhalation study - not a five-day study of the sort overseen by Bernstein.6 Although the two-year test was endorsed by an expert government panel - of which Bernstein was a member - in the mid-1990s, Bernstein decided the five-day test would suffice.
Egilman, a Brown University professor who has been an expert witness for asbestos plaintiffs, noted “the key question is… do the fibres persist long enough to induce the disease (eg. induction of mutations when cancer is the outcome of interest)? The answer to this question is clearly yes.”
2. Have a promotional tour
David Bernstein has clocked up the air miles. Financed by asbestos trade groups, he has appeared worldwide to sell the chrysotile “safe use” argument. Since authoring the $1m biopersistence paper for the industry in 2003, he’s taken the message to countries including Indonesia, Thailand, Brazil, Malaysia, the Philippines, Colombia and India.
The 25 January 2013 publication of the Critical Reviews in Toxicology paper manufactured an opportunity for another product defence road trip.
Minutes of ICA’s December 2012 executive meeting note the body’s “determination that ICA make known the study to everyone at local [and] international levels as well as to competent authorities of international organisation like ILO, WHO, IARC etc. As proposed by Chairman Mr Leblond, members have accepted that financial resources be authorised accordingly and that a good action plan be prepared as soon as possible in order that ICA be well prepared.”
TROUBLING PICTURE While asbestos industry favourite David Bernstein was willing to tell countries importing chrysotile their workers could use it safely in industrial quantities, his technicians - handling minute samples of the same fibres - wore protective suits, disposable masks and full-face positive pressure masks on top.
The asbestos industry was going to get its money’s worth from its 10-year, multimillion dollar investment. Such was the industry’s eagerness to cash in on its latest purchase, it ensured Bernstein’s Critical Reviews in Toxicology paper made a public appearance before it was even published.
On 23 January 2013, it surfaced at a European Parliament committee meeting in Strasbourg, France, where Roger Helmer, an elected member of the European Parliament, used it in an effort to frustrate plans to tighten asbestos regulation. Helmer, a member of the right wing UK Independence Party, said the paper showed how chrysotile had been unjustly “demonised.”
ICA president Jean-Marc Leblond gave the paper its first post-publication airing, to convince the government of Pakistan not to ban asbestos. A 31 January 2013 letter to authorities in the country noted: “The number of scientific studies demonstrating that chrysotile can and is being used safely, ie. at low exposures it does not present a detectable risk to health, is numerous. The most recent instance of a peer-reviewed study of paramount relevance to your deliberations is entitled ‘Health risk of chrysotile revisted’ [sic] and is published in Issue 2 of Volume 43 of Critical Reviews in Toxicology (February-March 2013).”
The letter concludes “we are persuaded the scientific evidence is overwhelming which supports the safe and responsible use of chrysotile and that there is no basis for prohibiting its use in today's high density products.”
BREATH TAKING The International Chrysotile Association, urging the authorities in Pakistan to step back from introducing a ban on their cancerous product, said “the scientific evidence is overwhelming which supports the safe and responsible use of chrysotile and that there is no basis for prohibiting its use.” This worker sawing asbestos in Pakistan, and the group of children looking on, would be better protected by the use of safer alternatives.
For evidence, Leblond’s letter lifts wholesale Bernstein’s one stop clean bill of health for chrysotile. “The importance of the present and other similar reviews is that the studies they report show that low exposures to chrysotile do not present a detectable risk to health. Since total dose over time decides the likelihood of disease occurrence and progression, they also suggest that the risk of an adverse outcome may be low with even high exposures experienced over a short duration.”
It was a 64-word mantra the industry had paid for and would pay for again, to give it licence to dust off an old purchase as new “scientific” evidence.
Kathleen Ruff, author of Exporting Harm, a 2008 investigation of the asbestos industry’s marketing drive, said the Critical Reviews in Toxicology paper was also central to the industry’s campaign that in May 2013 ensured chrysotile was not added the Rotterdam Convention’s right-to-know list of highly toxic exports.
Bernstein billed ICA for $6,600 for his “services rendered” in packaging the paper for the convention meeting. The ICA submission to the meeting was headlined “the crusade against chrysotile must end.” At the meeting, Bernstein’s paper was their trump card.
While in the Philippines on a November 2013 ICA-financed promotional visit, Bernstein told the Business Mirror that chrysotile asbestos is “a very valuable product” and using the better the devil you know defence said that it poses “little risk to the people’s health and environment”. Criticising those calling for ban, he said potential substitutes were more hazardous and less suitable. “Logically from a health point of view, you may be introducing something which is worse or far worse,” he said, adding that in tropical countries like the Philippines, the alternatives “are more expensive and less efficient.”
According to Ruff, a human rights expert based at Canada’s Rideau Institute: “No professional salesman could have done a better job.”
Yet Bernstein’s asbestos industry favoured line on cancer risks from chrysotile, bans and the relative safety of substitutes – cited by ICA head Jean-Marc Leblond in his letter to the authorities in Pakistan – had been dismissed unequivocally at the May 2013 Rotterdam Convention meeting.
The official report of the meeting, which was attended by Leblond, notes: “The representative of the World Health Organisation (WHO) reported that the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) had concluded that all forms of asbestos, including chrysotile, were carcinogenic to humans, the latest information having been published in 2012.
“She said that owing to the widespread use of chrysotile in building materials and other asbestos products it was not possible to prevent the exposure of workers and the general public. Furthermore, the chemical could not be used safely owing to the way in which products containing it were produced and handled and degraded in situ, as well as the challenges that they presented in decommissioning and subsequent waste management. She added that WHO and IARC had conducted an evaluation of fibrous chrysotile asbestos substitutes and had concluded that safer alternatives were available.”
But that wasn’t going to stop Bernstein. He was working from the same script on the next stop on his global asbestos ICA sales tour. This took him to New Delhi, India - the world’s largest asbestos importer - on 3-4 December 2013.
This time though, the asbestos peddlers were beaten to the punch. The Occupational and Environmental Health Network of India (OEHNI) coordinated the international response to the latest stage of an asbestos industry promotional drive that has seen imports of chrysotile asbestos to India nearly double in six years.
A 2 December 2013 letter condemning this aggressive marketing of chrysotile in the country, signed by over 300 eminent experts from 36 countries, had been sent to India’s health, labour and environment ministers. The letter noted: “The International Chrysotile Association and the Asbestos Cement Products' Manufacturers Association of India (ACPMA) are disseminating deadly, deceptive misinformation about chrysotile asbestos, that will cause suffering and loss of life for years to come.” It said “not a single reputable agency in the world” supports the ICA claim that chrysotile can be used safely.
OEHNI’s Mohit Gupta said that “since 1960, India has used over 7 million tonnes of asbestos and that in 2013 usage is predicted to exceed 500,000 tonnes.” India imports more asbestos than any other country, with imports up from 253,382 tonnes in 2006 to 473,240 tonnes in 2012.
But the industry was now facing opposition from scientific and medical heavyweights, backed by an increasingly effective global network of campaigners determined to secure a global ban on chrysotile, the only form of asbestos still traded.
Big Asbestos needed a new plan.
3. Get your man on the inside
Lies and lobbying have their limits. If critical opposition from global health bodies was to be contained, the industry needed someone on the inside. And it pulled it off. In 2013, the World Health Organisation’s cancer agency, IARC, appointed Sergey Kashansky (right), a pro-asbestos Russian government official, as a collaborating scientist on the IARC Asbest Study.
Outraged scientists from the US, Canada and India, including retired US Assistant Surgeon General Richard Lemen, co-authored a 12 November 2013 protest letter to IARC director-general Christopher Wild. The letter noted: “It is, in our view, a dangerous precedent and entirely unacceptable that IARC has appointed as a collaborating scientist a person who works with the asbestos industry to defeat the efforts of the WHO to protect public health by ending the use of chrysotile asbestos.”
It added: “Dr Kashansky’s involvement in the marketing efforts of the asbestos industry and the Russian government to promote export and use of asbestos represents a conflict of interest that contravenes the ethical standards that IARC is supposed to observe.”
Kashansky presented the official Russian pro-exports line at the December 2013 ICA conference in India. Russia produces about 1m metric tons of chrysotile each year, just over half of the global production total. It is by far the world’s biggest exporter, and its biggest customer is India.
Kashansky had form. In a 2006 presentation in Montreal, Canada, he concluded: “The role of chrysotile asbestos in etiology of mesothelioma remains disputed,” a claim only ever heard from the most extreme industry propagandists. His contribution on ‘Mesothelioma and chrysotile in Russia’ was posted on the website of the Chrysotile Institute. In a video clip of the presentation Kashansky adds, as a postscript: “I missed one conclusion… exposure to chrysotile asbestos did not show any increased risk for the development of mesothelioma.”
Kashansky wasn’t the only advocate of continued chrysotile use to be developing a close working relationship with IARC staff. Four IARC scientists co-authored with Kashansky an August 2013 paper in the journal Cancer Epidemiology.7 Also listed as an author was Evgeny Kovalesky (right), a Russian government scientist who provided testimony in August 2012 on behalf of the Brazilian Chrysotile Institute.
Kovalesky’s evidence to the Brazilian Supreme Court supported the industry campaign to block a proposed ban on chrysotile mining and export. It is a battle the asbestos industry appears to be winning. Brazil’s chrysotile production continues to rise, up from 287,673 metric tons in 2008 to a provisional figure for 2012 of 306,500 metric tons. Its asbestos consumption has soared, from 131,000 metric tons in 2008 to 185,000 metric tons in 2011.
Like Kashansky, Kovalesky’s affiliations are well known. He was described by Laurie Kazan Allen of the International Ban Asbestos Secretariat as one of the “well-known industry mouthpieces” on the asbestos lobbying circuit, a group also including Bernstein. She added that Kovalesky, “well-known for his ties to the Russian asbestos industry,” was part of the Russian delegation to the Rotterdam Convention meeting in May 2013, where Russia spearheaded the asbestos industry’s successful lobbying effort to block a requirement that chrysotile exports should be accompanied by an explicit health warning.
There were soon indications IARC’s Russian connection could be working in the asbestos industry’s favour. IARC agreed that Valerie McCormack, one of the four IARC contributors to the Cancer Epidemiology paper, should speak at a November 2012 Chrysotile Asbestos: Risk Assessment and Management conference in Kiev, Ukraine. The decision sparked a flurry of protest emails and letters to the director-general of IARC Christopher Wild. They included one from the Italian health minister Renato Balduzzi on behalf of the Italian government, imploring IARC to shun the conference because of suspicions the organisers were in league with the Russian asbestos industry.
The Kiev conference was co-organised by the Scientific Research Institute of Occupational Health of the Russian Federation, Kovalesky’s Moscow employer. Bernstein, speaking in the same session as McCormack, addressed the conference on ‘Health risk of chrysotile as used today.’ Russian lobbyists Kovalesky and Kashansky were also on the speakers’ roster.
McCormack and her IARC colleagues were consorting with and collaborating on asbestos papers and projects with individuals responsible for pushing asbestos in India, Brazil and worldwide. IARC had all the hallmarks of an agency that had “captured” by industry.
IARC was twitchy, but unrepentant. In a statement ahead of the Kiev conference, the WHO agency defended its involvement. “The Agency is aware of concerns about its participation in the conference but is convinced that the best science needs to be communicated to all stakeholders, in line with our mandate as a research organisation,” it noted. IARC added its participation was “on the basis that IARC will not take part in or be signatory to any resolution emanating from the conference.”
RUSSIAN ROULETTE Russia has taken over from Canada as the unofficial head of the global asbestos lobby. Its scientists, some working closely with the World Health Organisation (WHO) cancer research agency IARC, now travel the world promoting chrysotile use. It is a PR campaign that isn’t going unchallenged.
It was a troubling statement; IARC was certainly guilty of a scientific and ethical double standard. When it comes to the tobacco industry, WHO agencies including IARC are required as a matter of policy to maintain a safe distance. In 2008, WHO published ‘Tobacco industry interference with tobacco control’, spelling out the dangers of inadvertently or deliberately allowing the industry to influence policy, research and practice. It noted: “Such strategies include direct and indirect political lobbying and campaign contributions, financing of research, attempting to affect the course of regulatory and policy machinery and engaging in social responsibility initiatives as part of public relations campaigns.”
Public relations giant Hill & Knowlton pioneered this tobacco industry product defence strategy. And it made sure Big Asbestos used the same playbook as Big Tobacco. Included in a Hill & Knowlton internal list of eight success stories is asbestos. Under ‘results’, it notes: “Despite the validity of the of many of the claims made against asbestos and the efforts of various groups to eliminate the material from our society, the industry still exists and is producing products that are safe.”
The asbestos industry used the same public relations consultants, the same litigation ruses, the same smoke and mirrors and even the same scientific experts as the tobacco industry. The end result for many is the same cancer.
WHO accepts there are “fundamental and irreconcilable conflict between the tobacco industry’s interests and public health policy interests.” It is a position many believe should apply equally to asbestos. But where WHO has explicit policies to combat tobacco industry interference, it actively courts the involvement – interference - of the asbestos industry. The participation of a WHO agency in asbestos industry linked activities is a matter of choice, and not as it claims “mandate.”
But it was not just the presence of IARC’s Valerie McCormack at the asbestos conference that vexed the cancer agency’s critics, it was the content of her presentation.8 The paper she presented - Estimating the asbestos-related lung cancer burden from mesothelioma mortality9 - has been slated for downplaying the risks of asbestos, an over reliance on data from studies done in Quebec that were funded by the Canadian asbestos industry, and policy recommendations that failed to take into account WHO's recommendation to end all asbestos use. Three of the five authors – McCormack, Kurt Straif and Graham Byrnes - were IARC scientists.
McCormack's presentation, based on the 2012 British Journal of Cancer paper, included a table taken from a 2000 study by then UK Health and Safety Executive (HSE) researchers John Hodgson and Andrew Darnton showing that chrysotile (white asbestos) caused one case of mesothelioma for every 100 caused by amosite (brown asbestos) and 500 caused by crocidolite (blue asbestos).
In 2009, the same authors had to admit they had got their sums wrong – really wrong. Hodgson and Darnton said the ratio was really 1:10:50. This new estimate, though, was omitted from the IARC presentation. IARC stuck with an estimate suggesting the mesothelioma risk posed by chrysotile was 10 times lower than the revised - and far more alarming - corrected estimate published three years before McCormack’s paper and presentation.
The IARC-led paper’s claims were refuted in detail in a response from US and Canadian academics published in the British Journal of Cancer on 27 June 2013.10 This said the authors of the paper “fail to impose quality control standards to their study” and concluded: “The McCormack et al (2012) study minimises the health risks posed by chrysotile asbestos and suggests that ‘strict regulation’ in lieu of eliminating all asbestos use is acceptable. The suggestion that continuing ‘controlled use’ of asbestos is realistic is the asbestos industry’s position and is contradictory to the World Health Organisation’s recommendation that all use of asbestos should stop (WHO, 2006).”
IARC’s rebuttal was a scientific non sequitur. The response published in the same edition of the British Journal of Cancer,11 noted: “For chrysotile, the only asbestos fibre type being mined today, a small mesothelioma burden should not be interpreted as a small total cancer burden. The future chrysotile-related cancer burden will predominantly consist of lung cancer. The results being presented in Kiev are therefore entirely consistent with the overall assessment of the IARC Monograph program, that chrysotile, as all other forms of asbestos, is a Group 1 human carcinogen.”
None of the critics had questioned whether lung cancers would make up the largest share of the asbestos-related cancer burden, or that chrysotile was a potent human carcinogen. Most, like IARC, believe lung cancers caused by asbestos exposure will claim at least twice the number of lives as mesothelioma. But the lung cancer figure is extrapolated from the mesothelioma figure. If you under-estimate the mesothelioma figure by a factor of 10, then you do the same for the substantially larger asbestos-related lung cancer toll. And if the numbers disappear, so does the case for doing something about it.
Stung by the post-conference fall-out, a separate joint statement from WHO and IARC, issued on 19 February 2013, continued to defend the contentious paper and IARC’s trip to Kiev. It noted: “IARC confirms the completeness and accuracy of all data and statements of scientific results published in the British Journal of Cancer (Estimating the asbestos-related lung cancer burden from mesothelioma mortality, doi:10.1038/bjc.2011.563) and presented at a conference in Kiev.”
Over a two year period, WHO’s IARC has through a fatal combination of defensive blundering and wishful dissembling published a paper dramatically under-estimating the cancer risk posed by chrysotile, defended that under-estimate and then presented that under-estimate as fact at a conference critics believe was solely arranged to create a flaky scientific veneer for a chrysotile asbestos sales pitch. It had done it all in collaboration with Russian asbestos scientists.
WHO head of communications Gregory Härtl refused repeated requests from Hazards for an explanation of its agency’s increasingly accommodating relationship with the asbestos industry. The question hanging over the agency now becomes more grave. Just who is WHO protecting? We are still waiting to hear.
4. Take the money and run
The asbestos industry plan has been a success, by any standards. A key global health agency has been infiltrated. And global exports of chrysotile increased by 20 per cent in 2012, even before the 2013 leg of the industry’s promotion tour spurred by its latest scientific investment. Over the five years from 2008, and despite a vocal campaign for a ban, worldwide production remained steady at around the 2m metric tons mark annually.
ICA is bullish. Its submission prepared for the Rotterdam Convention meeting in May 2013 said there are willing markets out there, claiming a “group of countries that represents some 70 per cent of the world’s population still use chrysotile and strongly believe this can be done safely and in a responsible manner.”
But the industry also knows it is vulnerable. In 2011, just 10 countries – China, India, Russia, Brazil, Kazakhstan, Indonesia, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Vietnam and Ukraine - accounted for 94 per cent of global chrysotile consumption. The industry needs to defend these markets and develop new ones if it is to survive. This has made chrysotile product defence a multimillion dollar industry in its own right.
The asbestos lobby’s investment in Bernstein and other compliant scientists is a critical part of the plan to rehabilitate and market chrysotile. “The pro-asbestos views put forward by these scientists are rejected by independent scientists as having no credibility. Not a single reputable scientific body in the world supports their position,” said Kathleen Ruff. “But they are very popular with the asbestos industry, which has money to pay them to show up again and again at asbestos industry events, such as the one in India, to help sell asbestos or to defeat proposed bans on asbestos.”
According to a 2013 report published by WHO’s Europe office,12 it is the rest of us that lose out. “The profits made from the production of and trade in asbestos are much smaller than the societal costs of managing asbestos exposure and compensation for its consequences,” the report of an expert meeting noted.
But the industry’s product defence campaign is not about the greater good, it is about the good of the asbestos industry. As Kathleen Ruff observes: “While the asbestos industry has money to defend its financial interest, those who will be harmed as a result, and who will die painful, unnecessary deaths from asbestos-related diseases, have no money to defend their interest, which is life itself.”
While WHO and IARC policy might recognise the real costs of asbestos usage, their practice is increasingly accommodating the industry peddling the world’s biggest ever industrial killer. They work on projects together, they write scientific papers together, and they stand together on conference platforms.
At best WHO and IARC are being naïve; at worst – and the worst case seems increasingly the only conceivable explanation for their behaviour – they are being complicit in guaranteeing the continuation of asbestos trade and the deadly epidemic that trails behind it.
1 DM Bernstein, R Rogers and P Smith. The biopersistence of Canadian chrysotile asbestos following inhalation, Inhalation Toxicology, volume 15, number 13, pages 1247-1274, January 2003.
2 D Egilman, C Fehnel, SR Bohme. Exposing the "myth" of ABC, "anything but chrysotile": a critique of the Canadian asbestos mining industry and McGill University chrysotile studies, American Journal of Industrial Medicine, volume 44, number 5, pages 540-557, November 2003.
3 A Review of Human Carcinogens: Arsenic, Metals, Fibres, and Dusts, IARC Monograph, volume 100C, 2012.
4 D Bernstein and others. Health hazards of chrysotile revisited, Critical Reviews in Toxicology, volume 43, number 2, pages 154-183, 2013.
5 DM Bernstein and JA Hoskins. The health effects of chrysotile: Current perspective based upon recent data, Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology, volume 45, issue 3, pages 252–264, August 2006.
6 K Donaldson, G Oberdorster. Continued controversy on chrysotile biopersistence, IJOEH, volume 17, number 1, pages 98-99, 2011; and rebuttal by David Egilman pages 99-102.
7 J Schüz, SJ Schonfeld, H Kromhout, K Straif, SV Kashanskiy, EV Kovalevskiy, IV Bukhtiyarov, V. McCormack. A retrospective cohort study of cancer mortality in employees of a Russian chrysotile asbestos mine and mills: Study rationale and key features, Cancer Epidemiology, volume 37, issue 4, pages 440–445, August 2013.
8 IARC in the dock over ties with asbestos industry, The Lancet, volume 381, issue 9864, pages 359-361, 2 February 2013. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(13)60152-X.
9 V McCormack, J Peto, G Byrnes, K Straif, P Boffetta. Estimating the asbestos-related lung cancer burden from mesothelioma mortality, British Journal of Cancer, volume 106, number 3, pages 575-584, published online 10 January 2012. doi: 10.1038/bjc.2011.563.
10 RA Lemen, AL Frank, CL Soskolne, S H Weiss and B Castleman. Comment on ‘Estimating the asbestos-related lung cancer burden from mesothelioma mortality’ – IARC and Chrysotile Risks, British Journal of Cancer, volume 109, pages 823–825, published online 27 June 2013. doi:10.1038/bjc.2013.301
11 V McCormack, J Peto, G Byrnes, K Straif and P Boffetta. Reply: Comment on ‘Estimating the asbestos-related lung cancer burden from mesothelioma mortality’, British Journal of Cancer, volume 109, pages 825–826, published online 27 June 2013. doi:10.1038/bjc.2013.302
12 The Human and Financial Burden of Asbestos in the WHO European Region: Meeting Report 5-6 November 2012, Bonn, Germany, WHO Regional Office for Europe, 2013.
Critics of EU chemical policy had industry ties
Seventeen scientists who launched a high profile attack on plans in Europe to regulate endocrine-disrupting chemicals have past or current ties to affected industries. Out of 18 toxicology journal editors who signed a controversial editorial, all but one had collaborated with the chemical, pharmaceutical, cosmetic, tobacco, pesticide or biotechnology industries. Some have received research funds from industry associations, while some have served as industry consultants or advisers.
The stakes are high because it involves the European Union’s strategy to regulate hormone-altering chemicals – the first attempt in the world to do so. The plan recommends a precautionary approach, which could lead to a ban on some commonly used chemicals. The editorial critical of the policy development was published in 14 scientific journals from July to September 2013. Its lead author, Daniel Dietrich, (right) is a former adviser for an industry organisation funded by chemical, pesticide and oil companies that lobbies the European Commission on endocrine disruptors.
Other scientists immediately queried the writers' motives and undisclosed ties to industry. “I was very surprised by the editorial. I thought it was emotional and non-specific, a mixture of science and policy, and with too many errors,” said Åke Bergman, an environmental chemistry researcher at Stockholm University.
A rebuttal, published in the journal Environmental Health, was signed by Bergman and 40 other scientists with no declared conflicts of interest. They wrote that they were “concerned that the Dietrich editorial appears to be intended as an intervention designed to impact imminent decisions by the European Commission.” The editorial “ignores scientific evidence and well-established principles of chemical risk assessment” related to endocrine-disrupting chemicals, they warned.
Another rebuttal signed by 104 scientists and editors of journals was published on 18 September 2013 in the journal Endocrinology.
Philippe Grandjean and David Ozonoff, founding editors of the journal Environmental Health, were also unimpressed. In an editorial they note: “… the editorial by Dietrich et al is not really about science, whether contemporary or old fashioned. It is explicitly about public policy. It can conflate the two only by claiming the science as settled, a product of centuries of accepted methods and established teaching, although it gives no evidence to substantiate this sweeping and inaccurate claim.”
Grandjean and Ozonoff conclude: “Their editorial did not include any statement on Competing Interests that might have elucidated whether they have personal conflicts that would be affected by potential European Commission decisions they have taken so much time and effort to oppose even before they have been enacted. We urge Dietrich et al to correct that lapse.”
DR Dietrich and others. Scientifically unfounded precaution drives European Commission’s recommendations on EDC regulation, while defying common sense, well-established science and risk assessment principles, Food and Chemical Toxicology, published online 5 July 2013.
Åke Bergman and others. Science and policy on endocrine disrupters must not be mixed: a reply to a “common sense” intervention by toxicology journal editors, Environmental Health 2013, volume 12, number 69, published online 27 August 2013.
AC Gore and others. Policy decisions on Endocrine Disruptors should be based on science across disciplines: A Response to Dietrich et al, Endocrinology, published online 18 September 2013.
Policy decisions on Endocrine Disruptors should be based on science across disciplines: A Response to Dietrich et al and Editorial: An international Riposte to naysayers of Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals. Both in Endocrinology, published online ahead of print, 18 September 2013.
P Grandjean and D Ozonoff. Transparency and translation of science in a modern world, Environmental Health, volume 12, number 70, 27 August 2013.
International health agencies and those scientists not in the pay of industry are clear that chrysotile asbestos is a potent cause of cancer. The asbestos industry though had a four step strategy to give its deadly product a clean bill of health.
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