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The New Yorker

Veteran Science Writer Defends Asbestos Victims’ Rights in the New York Times

asbestos industry rebuttalThe community of asbestos victims’ advocates although international in scope is a relatively small one.  Most asbestos victims’ advocates are family members of asbestos victims or those of us involved in meeting their legal or medical needs. As a result most of what is written about asbestos and asbestos victims appears in publications and/or websites that are offshoots of these groups.

That’s why it is worth noting when someone goes to bat for asbestos victims in an important major media outlet like the New York Times.  Especially when that someone is a national science writer on environmental health hazards who has focused on asbestos.

The New York Times recently published an important letter about asbestos written by Paul Brodeur, an investigative science writer and author.  It appeared both in the paper’s internet and print editions.

In the letter, Brodeur states, “An estimated 10,000 Americans are dying of asbestos disease each year; before the asbestos tragedy has run its course, an estimated 500,000 Americans will have died of the disease.”

Brodeur is a former staff writer for The New Yorker magazine where the zeal for fact-checking is legendary.  So it is reasonable to presume scientific accuracy in Brodeur’s work.  No friend of industries that risk people’s lives for profit, Brodeur  also exposed the dangers of household detergents, the depletion of the ozone layer and electromagnetic radiation from power lines when these issues emerged during the 1970s and 1980s.

But a major focus of his environmental hazard reporting has been on asbestos. Over a twenty-year period, he researched and wrote four books about asbestos:

  • Asbestos & Enzymes (1972)
  • Expendable Americans (1974)
  • The Asbestos Hazard (1980)
  • Outrageous Misconduct: The Asbestos Industry on Trial (1985)

So recently, when an asbestos industry supporter disparaged asbestos victims in a New York Times op ed, Brodeur felt compelled to write a rebuttal.

In his letter, he says the industry supporter “makes light of a claimant’s assertion that she was subjected to asbestos exposure because she lived in a house with relatives who worked with asbestos, but numerous studies link household exposure (often called “bystander exposure”) with asbestos disease.”

He further cites the investigation by Dr. Irving J. Selikoff, former director of the Mount Sinai School of Medicine’s Environmental Sciences Laboratory, and Dr. E. Cuyler Hammond, former vice president for epidemiology and statistics of the American Cancer Society, “… who showed that nonsmoking asbestos workers died of lung cancer seven times more often than people in the general population, and whose calculations suggested that asbestos workers who smoked had more than 90 times the risk of dying of lung cancer as men who neither worked with asbestos nor smoked.”


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