For more than 70 years, scientists have released study after study demonstrating how all forms of asbestos, particularly including the chrysotile form, are dangerous because they cause fatal diseases such as malignant mesothelioma and lung cancer. Between this research and the growing amount of outrage coming from consumers, it would be reasonable to expect every government in the world to ban the production, mining, and sale of the material.
Yet the fact remains that asbestos continues to be used in the manufacturing of many products around the world. It’s a fact that’s quite appalling to us at Kazan Law.
Why is this allowed to happen? This continuing use of asbestos can largely be chalked up to the continuing efforts of the asbestos lobby to undermine credible science.
Industry buys good face for five decades
For all practical reasons, the asbestos industry should have folded under the overwhelming evidence implicating the mineral in the deaths of people who developed diseases resulting from asbestos exposure. One of the reasons why the industry has survived is the presence of a few studies that suggest chrysotile asbestos is relatively safe to use. McGill University in Canada, which bought and paid for, is one institution that released such research.
Of course, there’s a problem with these studies: They were conducted with the use of funding from the asbestos industry, often concealed, dating all the way back to the 1960s. Even though the university asserted that its experiments demonstrating the relative safety of chrysotile asbestos were replicated, experts from the University of Alberta pointed out that the only studies that were able to achieve this were also funded by the asbestos industry.
What does the most recent data tell us about chrysotile asbestos?
These studies are only a small fraction of the number that was conducted on chrysotile asbestos. One team of scientists from the University of Wisconsin, Madison, decided to take a view of the larger picture by conducting a worldwide review of research papers that discussed chrysotile asbestos and mesothelioma.
The review, which was published in the Annals of Epidemiology in 2012, concluded that chrysotile asbestos is linked to cases of mesothelioma from all around the world, and that a global ban of all types of asbestos in an effort to stop an epidemic is warranted.
Still, the industry has proven itself stubborn and outright unethical.
Asbestos stakeholders are dragging scientists down
One of the latest examples of the asbestos industry’s questionable ethics was the execution of the Chrysotile Asbestos: Risk Assessment and Management conference in Ukraine in 2012. Russia is the world’s lead producer of asbestos fiber and its asbestos industry has great government support. What made the event especially baffling was the fact that not only did organizers send an invitation to a scientist from the International Agency for Research on Cancer, a division of the World Health Organization, but also that she accepted.
Members of the IARC defended the decision of the scientist, Valerie McCormack, by saying the conference was an opportunity for her to present the latest research on the dangers of chrysotile asbestos. However, critics pointed out that the study she was scheduled to present was out of date and undersold the true level of risk.
The involvement of the IARC in this conference tarnishes the agency’s name, but perhaps more importantly, it provides the Russian asbestos industry with some much-needed cover. This month, the Rotterdam Convention will convene, and participating nations all around the world will decide whether to require warnings on asbestos shipped from one country to another.
However, it’s important not to be discouraged by these developments. The asbestos industry may be able to buy good face, but in the end, it cannot buy good science, or truth, both of which stand with the victims, who have the power to fight back.