When is a grant not a grant? When it is really a consulting fee, according to a group of angry asbestos activists, including several physicians. The asbestos activists recently wrote a scathing letter to the editor of a medical journal to protest an article it published that was favorable to asbestos. In their letter, which is posted on the Asian Ban Asbestos Network’s Facebook page, the asbestos activists cite new evidence that the scientists who authored the article received consulting fees – not an unrestricted grant – from the International Chrysotile Association (ICA), as stated in the article.
They further note that the medical journal’s editor Roger McClellan, to whom the letter is addressed, is a personal friend of the article’s lead author David Bernstein PhD. and that McClellan himself also at one time received payment to testify on behalf of an asbestos company.
“We believe the article violates ethical standards of disclosure that all scientists and scientific publications are expected to uphold,” the asbestos activists state in the letter protesting the article “Health Risks of Chrysotile Revisited,” published in the journal Critical Reviews in Toxicology.
Chrysotile, a white asbestos, is the most widely used form of asbestos, making up about 95% of the asbestos in the United States and a similar level in other countries. It has been included along with other forms of asbestos as a carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Epidemiologists and other scientists have published peer reviewed scientific papers establishing chrysotile as a leading cause of mesothelioma.
Chrysotile has been recommended for inclusion in the Rotterdam Convention on Prior Informed Consent, an international treaty restricting global trade in hazardous materials. If listed, exports of chrysotile would be allowed only to countries that explicitly consent to importing it. Canada, a major chrysotile producer, has been criticized by the Canadian Medical Association for opposing including chrysotile in the Convention.
The letter to McClellan is signed by Canadian asbestos activist Kathleen Ruff and four physicians, three Canadian and one Korean, who specialize in public health and preventive medicine.
The asbestos activists’ letter objects to the fact that undisclosed financial interests of scientists who claim to be impartial may have influenced them to conclude that chrysotile may not be so bad after all. The article in question concludes, “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.”
The letter writers state that a key ICA official has confirmed that Bernstein invoiced ICA a total of $200,000 to write those words and that he has in the past been paid by asbestos producer Georgia Pacific to write similar articles. “A New York court has ruled that such conduct by Dr. Bernstein constitutes potential crime-fraud,” the letter says.