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New Evidence Reveals That Scientists Were Paid by Chrysotile Industry to Write Pro-Asbestos Article

asbestos industryWhen 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.

Rotterdam Convention 2013 Summary

Laurie Kazan-Allen and some of the French activists from ANDEVA = Pour un monde sans amiante – for a world without asbestos

Laurie Kazan-Allen and some of the French activists from ANDEVA = Pour un monde sans amiante – for a world without asbestos

Over the past couple of weeks I have written about the scandal that was the Rotterdam Convention 2013 and the disturbing trend of countries advocating for the asbestos industry. My sister, Laurie Kazan-Allen, coordinator of the International Asbestos Secretariat was awarded observer status at this 6th Conference of the Parties and witnessed firsthand the developments of this important global meeting. I thank her for allowing me to use her frontline diary as the foundation for the summary report which follows.

Monday, May 6, 2013: Arrival / Registration/ Introductions

With the Convention covering a broad list of hazardous chemicals, the observers with a primary focus on the chrysotile asbestos issue included: Dr. Barry Castleman (U.S.), Kathleen Ruff (Canada), Laurie Kazan-Allen and Bill Lawrence (Britain), Alessandro Pugno (Italy), Sugio Furuya (Japan), and Fernanda Giannasi (Brazil).

Tuesday, May 7, 2013:

Delegations from Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan Zimbabwe, Kyrgyzstan, Vietnam and India stated their intention to block the listing of chrysotile asbestos, earning the title “Dirty 7”. It was apparent that this was a political campaign spearheaded by Russia.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013:

cop6_side_event_sugio_2013_822A letter from an Italian asbestos victim’s group that was signed by 28 asbestos victims’ support groups in 15 countries on five continents was presented. Later in the day several speakers described the humanitarian disasters caused by asbestos in their countries. Russian asbestos lobbyist Andrei Kholzakov made several attempts to intervene in the humanitarian session. At one point he stood up and waved a piece of asbestos propaganda headlined “People for Chrysotile.”

Thursday May 9, 2013:

With the rules of the Rotterdam Convention requiring a global unanimous consensus, in an atmosphere of frustration it was determined that the issue of adding chrysotile asbestos to the list of hazardous chemicals would be put on the agenda for the next Conference.

Friday May 10, 2013:

Achim Steiner, executive director of the U.N. Environment Program expressed the following comment:

“It’s very easy to say we’ve failed. But the fact of the matter is that asbestos essentially has no future… Do you really believe that after everything that has been discussed here [industry] will invest in this material in the future? No, and in that sense the convention has a direct and indirect value in signaling what are the substances that are not likely to be in the global marketplace in the near or middle term.”

To read the abridged positions and views expressed by delegates, scroll down to the appendix here.


The New Asbestos Industry Allies

asbestos lobbyAlthough civilization has used asbestos in manufacturing for centuries, the last seven decades of scientific research found an undeniable link between the mineral and deadly diseases such as malignant mesothelioma. Slowly but surely, responsible companies in industrialized nations have made it a priority to reduce their use of asbestos.

However, developing nations aren’t as fortunate. Their respective economies leave them with few alternatives to accepting exports from richer countries that mine and produce asbestos-containing materials, and that’s an outrageous injustice.

The international trade community had a chance to right this wrong at this year’s United Nation’s Rotterdam Convention. In the days leading up to the meeting, one activist noted a particularly disturbing trend: While one country that advocated for the asbestos industry has stepped down, two others have taken its place as asbestos industry allies.

Canada disappears from industry’s corner
The Rotterdam Convention is an international, U.N.-sponsored meeting in which international trade stakeholders come together and decide whether certain products for export are to be considered hazardous to human health, making them rightfully difficult to peddle.

During the last few assemblies of the Rotterdam Convention, Canada refused to cooperate with international efforts to list chrysotile asbestos as a hazardous substance. This is appalling, considering that the mineral is considered dangerous within the country’s own borders. Canada’s fight against the Rotterdam Convention on this matter was driven in large part by its once-thriving asbestos industry.

However, in 2011, officials from Quebec announced that they would stop subsidizing the asbestos industry. Kathleen Ruff, co-coordinator of the Rotterdam Convention Alliance, argued that this move is behind what she calls Canada’s new, cynically driven stance on no longer opposing adding chrysotile asbestos to the list of hazardous materials. That’s not to say that Canada will be vocally supporting the move, either, Ruff said.

Two countries fill Canada’s shoes
Ruff’s new concern is that there are two countries that will pick up where Canada left off on the chrysotile asbestos matter as asbestos industry allies: Russia and Zimbabwe.
Here’s how Ruff described the situation in an editorial for The Star in Canada:

“Russia will be attending for the first time as a party to the convention. It has indicated that it intends to use its new status to prevent chrysotile asbestos from being put on the hazardous substance list,” Ruff wrote. “In Russia, with a population of 141 million people, there is not a single scientist or a single scientific organization that opposes the government’s pro-asbestos policy. Or, at any rate, there is not a single scientist or scientific body that dares to do so publicly.”

Additionally, Zimbabwe has indicated interest in reopening its own asbestos mines. Between these two countries, many people will needlessly die from preventable asbestos-induced diseases, including asbestosis and lung cancer.

There are asbestos industry lobbyists who argue that the wealth of scientific information connecting the mineral to health problems has led to safety measures that are adequate enough to not require additional restrictions. However, experts point out that developing countries, some of which have to accept asbestos-tainted exports, don’t have the necessary regulatory bodies to adequately enforce these safety measures.

Let’s not forget how powerful the asbestos lobby is. In the U.S., the Environmental Protection Agency proposed a serious crackdown on asbestos use in 1989, but two years later, the industry successfully got most of the ban overturned in federal court. As a result, asbestos is still allowed in many manufacturing processes in the U.S.

Rotterdam Convention a Scandal

Rotterdam ConventionA press release came across my desk this morning that is alarming to the protection of humanity. Today marks the final day of the Rotterdam Convention, a global treaty which promotes open exchange of information between countries and calls on exporters of hazardous chemicals to use proper labeling, include directions on safe handling, and inform purchasers of any known restrictions or bans.

This sixth meeting of the Rotterdam Conference began on April 28th in Geneva, Switzerland. Now for the fourth time, a handful of countries allied to the asbestos industry have refused to allow chrysotile asbestos to be added to the Convention’s list of hazardous substances, even though the Convention’s expert scientific committee has repeatedly recommended that it be listed. In the previous meeting of the conference in 2001, Canada was the only Western country that refused to allow the addition of chrysotile asbestos to the Rotterdam Convention.

Kathleen Ruff, co-coordinator of the Rotterdam Convention reports “It is outrageous that seven countries – Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Ukraine, Zimbabwe, India and Vietnam –are turning the Rotterdam Convention into a Convention that protects profits of the asbestos industry, instead of protecting human health and the environment.”

In her report, my sister, Laurie Kazan-Allen, coordinator of the International Ban Asbestos Secretariat describes this ruthless conduct as the end of innocence. “The Convention requires that countries practice responsible trade by obtaining prior informed consent before they export hazardous substances to another country. But these seven countries are determined to practice irresponsible trade and to hide the hazards of chrysotile asbestos,” said Laurie.

Last year, an Italian court sentenced two asbestos executives to 16 years in jail for criminally suppressing information about the hazards of asbestos. Their crime resulted in up to 3000 deaths, including citizens living near their asbestos-cement factories.

“By not listing chrysotile asbestos, the Convention is enabling the industry to carry on the same criminal cover-up of the hazards of chrysotile asbestos, which will result in hundreds of thousands more tragic deaths, which could and should be prevented,” said Dr. Barry Castleman, former consultant on asbestos to the World Bank. “This is a crime against humanity and the whole world should be scandalized.”

5 Calls for Sanctions on Canada for Derailing United Nations Protocol

United Nations flag

Flag of the United Nations

A United Nations treaty commonly known as the Rotterdam Convention was signed in September 1998 to promote shared responsibilities to safeguard human health and the environment from harmful effects of hazardous chemicals. Under the Rotterdam Convention, countries nominate chemicals for inclusion in the PIC (prior informed consent) list.

Meaning of Rotterdam Convention List

The PIC listing is not a ban. The chemicals included on the list are subject to extensive information exchange and obligations related to international trade. Exporting nations are required to provide documentation on the nature of the substance so that importers can make informed decision as to whether or not they are capable of using it safely.

Recent Developments

At the Rotterdam Convention meeting in Geneva last week, the Canadian delegation single-handedly derailed a long-standing attempt to include chrysotile asbestos on the Convention’s prior informed consent list. Despite support from 142 out of 143 Parties to the Convention, the listing was blocked due to a 100% unanimity requirement.

Rotterdam Convention Alliance member Laurie Kazan-Allen, Coordinator of International Ban Asbestos Secretariat (IBAS) has been campaigning since 1999 to achieve justice for all asbestos victims and a global ban on asbestos. Commenting on recent developments, Ms. Kazan-Allen said,

“What we saw last week in Geneva…was pure evil. Canada is now a rogue state and should be dealt with in the same way as other administrations which have breached the acceptable level of behavior expected of civilized societies.”

Calls for Action

At a seminar in Belgium yesterday organized by the Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists & Democrats in the European Parliament in collaboration with trade unions and non-governmental organizations, Ms. Kazan-Allen made these requests of the Members of the European Parliament:

1.  Issue a denunciation of the obstructive behavior of the Canadian delegation at the Rotterdam Convention meeting. Measures should be considered such as sanctions and trade boycotts which would translate outrage into action.

2.  Challenge the $58 million loan guarantee that the Quebec government offered the international consortium that plans to open a new asbestos mine in Quebec.

3.  Lobby the European Commission and Directorate General (DG) for Health and Consumers, DG Environment, DG Employment, Social Affairs & Inclusion, and DG Justice to explore all possible options for effecting a change in Canada’s asbestos policy.

4.  Raise concerns about Canada’s reckless endangerment of human life, especially the lives of vulnerable people in asbestos-consuming countries, at all possible forums.

5.  Place on record support for a WHO Framework Convention on Asbestos Control and to work with their WHO and ILO partners to progress this initiative.

Kazan Law strongly supports these calls and suggests that all organizations and individuals join with us in supporting the United Nations protocol to protect vulnerable populations from the hazards of asbestos.

Canada Blocks Asbestos from Hazardous Chemical List

Canada blocks asbestos from hazardous chemical list Despite the fact that Canada has been criticized from nearly every corner of the globe over its asbestos policies, the country has decided to block the listing of the carcinogenic substance as a hazardous chemical.

According to the Toronto Sun, countries from around the globe are meeting in Geneva, Switzerland, to debate the listing of chrysotile asbestos as hazardous under the Rotterdam Convention, but Canada is not budging.

As a result, the country is drawing even more criticism from officials at home as well as leaders from other countries, the news source said.

“The government says that the product is safe if used in a certain fashion but they’re refusing to ensure that the buyer is told to beware,” said Canada’s New Democratic Party (NDP) leader Jack Layton. “This is absolutely outrageous and unacceptable.”

Asbestos Remains Deadly Killer Around the World

While Canada fights to keep its asbestos industry alive, scientists continue to assert the dangerous properties of the material, particularly when individuals inhale the naturally occurring mineral fibers.

The inhalation of asbestos fibers has been proven to cause a range of serious illnesses, which include lung cancer, asbestosis and malignant mesothelioma, a rare form of cancer that attacks the tissues surrounding many of the body’s internal organs.

According to the National Cancer Institute, approximately 2,500 Americans receive a mesothelioma diagnosis each year. All told, asbestos-related diseases kill approximately 107,000 people around the world every year, according to the World Health Organization.

Canadian Officials Continue Pushing for Right to Export Carcinogen

While Canada has regulated the use of asbestos in its own country – much like many governments across the globe – industry officials still argue that they have the right to export the dangerous material to countries looking to purchase it.

According to the Sun, Industry Minister Christian Paradis says that Canadian companies have a number of incentives to continue exporting asbestos, from supplying developing countries that want to use it to creating jobs at the Jeffrey Mine in Quebec.

The Quebec government has lent a hand to the mine as well, offering it millions of dollars to keep it operational, according to the news source.

At some point, however, many government officials say that those pushing for the continued mining and exportation of asbestos need to realize the consequences their actions are having on others in different countries.

“Without exaggeration, we are exporting human misery on a monumental scale and yet we are taking active steps to ensure that companies do not even warn their customers,” NDP MP (Member of Parliament) Pat Martin explained.

Pressure to Regulate Chrysotile Asbestos Ramped up at United Nations Meeting

Representatives from the 143 countries in the United Nations are in the process of meeting in Geneva to discuss potential regulations for chrysotile asbestos, which is most notably mined in Quebec, Canada, reports the Montreal Gazette.

According to the news source, the specific type of asbestos is currently banned in the entire 27-country European Union, as well as Australia. Use of the substance is also substantially regulated in countries such as Chile.

This year, the material could become regulated in countries like Canada, one of its main exporters, as a number of health officials have written a letter to Prime Minister Stephen Harper supporting the Rotterdam Convention‘s chemical review committee’s recommendation that the substance become listed in Annex 3.

According to the website for the convention, chemicals that are listed in Annex 3 “include pesticides and industrial chemicals that have been banned or severely restricted for health or environmental reasons by parties.”

Carcinogenic Properties Concern Health Officials

The major reason why health officials in Canada are encouraging the Prime Minister to take action towards at least regulating chrysotile asbestos is that the carcinogenic substance has been proven to cause a range of serious illnesses.

In fact, in the letter itself, the 48 Quebec doctors point out that “there is general consensus among the scientific community that all types of asbestos fibers are carcinogenic… and can cause asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma when inhaled.”

Malignant mesothelioma, which is a rare cancer, attacks the tissues surrounding the majority of the body’s internal organs.

In total, asbestos-related diseases kill approximately 107,000 people around the world each year, according to the World Health Organization.

Doctors’ Recommendations Go Beyond Politics

While these diseases are very real, Canada has remained steadfast in arguing that chrysotile asbestos can be used safely in materials such as cement as long as the fibers themselves are sealed.

However, recent research conducted by Britain’s chief scientific adviser Sir John Beddington suggested that “on the evidence available, there is no justification for an imminent change to the international scientific consensus on the classification of chrysotile as a Class 1 carcinogen,” according to the news source.

Additionally, the Quebec doctors say in the letter to Prime Minister Harper that the recommendation to put the substance into the Rotterdam Convention was also made by 31 “neutral scientific experts.”

“The whole medical and independent scientific community in Quebec, Canada and internationally is unanimous,” the letter states.

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