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Scientist played down work cancer risks
[Hazards magazine, 16 December 2006]

A world-famous British scientist failed to disclose that he held a paid consultancy with a chemical company for more than 20 years while investigating cancer risks in the industry. Sir Richard Doll, the celebrated epidemiologist who established that smoking causes lung cancer and who died last year, was receiving a consultancy fee of $1,500 a day in the mid-1980s from chemical multinational Monsanto.

The revelations appeared on 8 December 2006 in The Guardian, and are based on documents uncovered by Hazards and Injurywatch in US court papers and in Doll’s own archive at the Wellcome Institute. While he was being paid by Monsanto, Sir Richard wrote to a royal Australian commission investigating the potential cancer-causing properties of Agent Orange, made by Monsanto and used by the US in the Vietnam war. Sir Richard said there was no evidence that the chemical caused cancer.

The documentation also reveals Sir Richard was paid a £15,000 fee by the Chemical Manufacturers Association and two other major companies, Dow Chemicals and ICI, for a review that largely cleared vinyl chloride, used in plastics, of any link with cancers apart from liver cancer - a conclusion with which the UN’s International Agency for Research on Cancer disagrees.

Doll was also receiving chemical industry payments when he co-authored in 1981 a major report which gave an extremely low estimate of the occupational contribution to the total cancer toll, a figure still described by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) as “the current best estimate”.

A Hazards report last year estimated that the real occupational cancer prevalence was at least twice and could be four times Doll's estimate, claiming up to 24,000 lives a year, compared to HSE's estimate of between 3,000 and 12,000 deaths. The known number of asbestos related mesothelioma and lung cancer cases alone are well in excess of HSE's lower estimate of total UK occupational cancer deaths. Mesothelioma alone killed 1,969 people in 2004, with asbestos related lung cancers at least matching this figure, and possibly more than twice as high.

InjurywatchHazards occupational cancer and work and health webpages • HSE occupational cancer estimatesThe Guardian including sidebars on Doll and on Doll and Agent Orange and VCM