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Paolo Boffetta

Scientist Secretly Associated with Asbestos Industry May Help Weaken Asbestos Laws

asbestos lawsCreating asbestos laws depends on rigorous honest scientific information.  In order for asbestos laws to protect people, lawmakers need reliable scientific evidence about the harm asbestos exposure does to people exposed to this highly toxic substance.

New stricter asbestos laws and better regulations regarding workplace and product safety to prevent asbestos exposure often hinge on testimony from scientific experts in medicine, epidemiology and toxicology.  When leading scientists allow themselves to become corrupted by money from industries with vested interest in weaker rather than stronger asbestos laws, public health suffers.  Individual people suffer.  They become very sick and die because asbestos laws in their country failed to protect them.

The outcome of asbestos court cases can also depend on reliable scientific evidence about asbestos because courts and juries need to know the facts to determine whether asbestos laws were violated.

We have reported here about university scientists in the U.S., Scotland and Canada who are accused of selling out to the asbestos industry.  Now, new evidence points to a prominent European scientist who is alleged to also have been swayed by asbestos industry bribes.

What is most disturbing is that the scientist in question, Paolo Boffetta, is expected to become the next head of France’s leading epidemiology institute, the Centre for Research in Epidemiology and Population Health (CESP).  This would greatly increase his influence over France’s asbestos laws and regulations.

Kathleen Ruff, an international anti-asbestos advocate based in Canada, reports that Boffetta was the lead author of an industry-friendly article, Estimating the asbestos-related lung cancer burden from mesothelioma mortality, in the British Journal of Cancer.

 

The article concludes, “… that the mesothelioma-producing potential of chrysotile is low and thus the number of mesothelioma deaths will be too unstable to be used to estimate the lung cancers caused by it.”

Bofetta submitted the article under the auspices of the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC).  Bofetta, along with the other authors, declared “no conflict of interest”.

Yet at the same time that he was co-writing IARC’s article, Boffetta reportedly was being paid by an Italian asbestos company to help it defeat charges of criminal negligence, causing the deaths of a dozen workers who died from mesothelioma after being exposed to asbestos used at the company’s Montefibre factory in Italy.

Keep in mind that the IARC is the cancer agency of the World Health Organization.  So this chain of events is like discovering that the National Cancer Institute of NIH has been infiltrated and corrupted by the asbestos industry.

Bofetta testified in support of the company’s argument that if workers had been exposed to asbestos in the distant past, it did not matter if they were subsequently exposed to asbestos. He claimed that repeated, subsequent doses of asbestos do not cause further harm to workers so there should be no consequences to the company for having continued to expose its workers to asbestos over the ensuing decades.

Italian epidemiologist Dario Mirabelli noted according to Ruff’s report that Boffetta considered “a very limited number of studies and the results of those that were considered, were selectively reported. For example, they cite our most recent article on mortality among workers in the Eternit plant in Casale Monferrato, but they do not cite our main result, which is that mesothelioma mortality is directly proportional to the duration of exposure asbestos.”

So in other words, the fox can’t be trusted to guard the henhouse.

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