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Asbestos Industry Funds Allegedly Biased Scientist’s Research

Mcgill_BuildingAsbestos regulation and legal cases often rely on testimony from expert witnesses who are supposed to provide factual impartial evidence.  Typically these expert witnesses are medical professionals and scientific researchers who can influence decisions because of their knowledge of asbestos and how it affects human health at various exposure levels.

But what if the experts who are supposed to be the ultimate authority on asbestos allow their opinions to be swayed by the business interests of whoever is funding their research?  What if the entity funding the research sees it as a business investment with an expected return instead of a philanthropic use of funds to advance scientific knowledge to help all humankind?

This is what a professor from Ivy League Brown University is alleging about a professor at Canada’s prestigious McGill University.

David S. Egilman, MD, MPH, a clinical professor of family medicine at Rhode Island’s Brown University suggests impropriety in his presentation at an asbestos industry conference held at McGill University last week.  Entitled “The Past is Prologue, Universities in Service to Corporations:  the McGill QAMA Asbestos Example.”

In his presentation, Dr. Egilman questions the accuracy of the conclusions of research on asbestos miners by McGill’s Prof. J.C. McDonald.  Prof. McDonald’s research was reportedly financed with one million dollars by the Quebec Asbestos Mining Association (QAMA).

“The available published data shows that the data reported does not support the conclusions,” Dr. Egilman says in the presentation.

The controversy was reported by Kathleen Ruff in an e-bulletin produced by the nonprofit Rideau Institute based in Ottawa.  Ruff, one of the Institute’s founders, is noted for her advocacy to end Canada’s export of asbestos.

“Prof. McDonald used his research to promote the use of chrysotile asbestos around the world. His research continues today to be used by the global asbestos industry to promote the sale and use of chrysotile asbestos. It was used, for example, by the global asbestos lobby at the May 2013 Rotterdam Convention conference to help defeat the listing of chrysotile asbestos as a hazardous substance,”  Ruff states.

Dr. Egilman and other scientists, according to Ruff, asked McGill to conduct an official investigation under the university’s research integrity regulations. McGill has refused and instead carried out an internal review which, according to Ruff, was “flawed by bias, lack of transparency and misinformation.”

Canadian Prime Minister Attacked for Asbestos Promotion

stephen harperPrime Minister Stephen Harper is holding his second rally in Asbestos, Quebec today, seeking votes by promoting himself as the political leader most dedicated to the asbestos industry. Over twenty health, union and environmental organizations have responded in an open letter urging Harper to end his support for the asbestos trade.

April 26, 2011

Dear Prime Minister Harper:

We urge you to put people’s lives ahead of politics. Please end your support for the deadly asbestos trade.

Canada’s leading medical authorities have all told you that Canada’s export of asbestos is medically and morally indefensible and will lead to an epidemic of asbestos-related disease and death overseas.

We are shocked and dismayed that you are denying the clear scientific evidence and instead are supporting a plan to revive Canada’s bankrupt, dying and deadly asbestos industry.

Public policy should be based on science, not politics. The science is indisputable that all asbestos is deadly. Not a single reputable authority supports your claim that chrysotile asbestos (which represents 100% of the global asbestos trade) can be safely used.

Canada is becoming known as an immoral asbestos pusher and as an enemy of global public health. This is not the role Canadians want to play in the world. This does not reflect Canadian values.

We are appalled that, in order to protect the asbestos industry, you have publicly promised to block the upcoming Conference of the U.N. Environmental Convention (Rotterdam Convention) so as to prevent chrysotile asbestos being listed as a hazardous substance. Chrysotile asbestos is a hazardous substance under Canadian law. It is, in our opinion, hypocritical and contemptuous of the lives of people in the developing world to prevent them from being provided with this critical information, as if their lives were less worthy of protection.

It is with sorrow and shame that we note that Canada is becoming a pariah on the international stage for its obstruction of global efforts to protect health, human rights and the environment.

Prime Minister Harper, you are the only national leader in Canada and in the Western world to promote asbestos. At the same time, Canadian taxpayers are paying millions of dollars to remove asbestos from your official residence and your place of work, the Parliament Buildings, in order to protect you and other Canadian politicians from being harmed by exposure to asbestos.

This election is about trust and integrity. We urgently call on you to show integrity. We ask you to:

Respect the science
Put human life ahead of partisan political interests
Support a ban on asbestos and the provision of transition assistance to the last remaining asbestos miners and their community
Support the listing of chrysotile asbestos under the Rotterdam Convention
Adopt a comprehensive strategy to address Canada’s asbestos disease crisis

We request a response from you. Please do not, as usually happens, forward our letter to Christian Paradis, the Minister of Natural Resources, who is an avid supporter of the asbestos industry and simply puts forward its discredited position.

We urgently await your response on this critical ethical issue.


Kathleen Ruff
Senior human rights adviser, Rideau Institute



Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment
Nature Québec
International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, Canada
Sierra Club Canada
International Longshore & Warehouse Union Canada
Maîtres chez nous-21e siècle, Québec
Syndicat des débardeurs de Montréal, SCFP Section locale 375
British Columbia & Yukon Territory Building & Construction Trades Council
Prevent Cancer Now
Atlantic Coast District, International Longshoremen’s Association
Canadian Society for Asbestos Victims
MiningWatch Canada
Asbestos-related Research, Education and Advocacy Fund
Boilermakers Lodge 359
Sheet Metal Local 280
International Union of Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers Union Local #2 BC
BC Ferry & Marine Worker’s Union
IBEW Local 993, Northern B.C. & Yukon
I L A, Local 1657,  Montréal
International Union of Operating Engineers, Local 115


1) Reputable Scientific Organisations that Oppose your position on chrysotile asbestos:

The Canadian Medical Association
The Canadian Cancer Society
The Lung Association of Canada
The Quebec Medical Association
The Canadian Public Health Association
The Quebec Association for Public Health
The Quebec Association of Physicians Specializing in Community Health
The Lung Association of Quebec
The National Specialty Society for Community Medicine
The National Public Health Institute of Quebec
The Quebec Association for Occupational Hygiene, Health & Safety
All the Quebec government’s sixteen regional Directors of Public Health
The Quebec College of Physicians
The College of Family Physicians of Canada
The Quebec College of Family Physicians
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
The International Social Security Association
The International Labour Organization
The International Commission on Occupational Health
The World Health Organization

2) Reputable Scientific Organisations that Support your position on chrysotile asbestos:



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