Industries and organizations that benefit from the continued mining and use of chrysotile asbestos regularly minimize the risks associated with the carcinogen via disinformation, the selective use of scientific data and policy influence, according to a new report.
An analysis of research and data produced by the chrysotile industry, affiliated organizations and even certain governments found that they consistently downplay chrysotile’s adverse health effects, especially its cancer-causing properties, according to a research report published Feb. 23 in the Journal of Occupational Medicine and Toxicology.
The paper’s authors alleged that these efforts — which also target lawsuits filed by mesothelioma victims and their families — are driven by “commercial interests” and are “not supported by scientific evidence.”
For the article, the authors cited more than 100 documents produced over the past two decades by parties invested in chrysotile’s success “to document false assumptions and predications from these entities using scientific evidence-based facts.”
The report focused specifically on chrysotile asbestos because it is the only type of asbestos still used today and represents 95 percent of the asbestos traded over the last century.
“For decades, the chrysotile asbestos industry has hired scientists ... to create the propaganda that chrysotile is safer than amphibole asbestos types and can be used safely,” the paper contended. “Some of these scientists were also engaged in producing defense material for other industries, including the tobacco industry.”
Data Manipulation Alleged
As an example, studies funded by the former Quebec Asbestos Mining Association — most recently knows as the Chrysotile Institute — utilized data manipulation, unsound sampling, and improper analysis techniques to convey that chrysotile was “essentially innocuous,” the report noted. It added that associated researchers “put forth several myths to suggest that chrysotile was harmless, and contended that the contamination of chrysotile with oils, tremolite, or crocidolite was the source of [its] occupational health risk.”
The report also called out the International Chrysotile Association (ICA), which it referred to as the “PR agency” of the asbestos industry, contending that its financing comes from mining outfits in Russia, Kazakhstan and Zimbabwe, as well as industrialists in India and Mexico. The authors specifically cited parts of ICA’s website for allegedly containing unsupported scientific claims and attempting to downplay the dangers of chrysotile. Representatives of ICA did not respond to a request for comment by deadline.
“The persisting strong influence of vested asbestos-related interests in workers and public health issues, including regulations and compensation, necessitate ongoing alertness, corrections and appropriate reactions in scientific as well as public media and policy advisory bodies.”
The paper also noted the use of “disinformation” by companies in court to avoid paying mesothelioma patients that mined chrysotile or repaired car brakes lined with asbestos. This supposedly includes insurance-affiliated pathologists from Germany’s Mesothelioma Registry, who have “routinely quantified asbestos bodies or asbestos fibers in lung tissue falsely assuming that chrysotile is biopersistent.” The authors noted that instead of remaining in the lungs, these fibers often move to the lining of the lungs, which renders scientific assumptions of biopersistence faulty.
Another way in which companies interfere is by inserting themselves into public policy debates to influence legislative bodies and regulatory processes in their favor, the report alleged. “There are well-studied examples of corporate manipulation and malfeasance by the asbestos industry, which have influenced the results of scientific findings, delayed important knowledge about the asbestos-cancer relationship, and thereby influenced law and public policy to serve their own interests rather than the interests of workers and public health,” the authors wrote.
The authors referenced the use of industry-influenced research papers in toxicology journals that are either written by industry consultants or simply ghostwritten. It is common for these papers to exclude potential conflicts of interest, such as when certain reports funded by Georgia Pacific to defend the sales of asbestos-containing products falsely claimed that the company wasn’t behind the effort.
Government Research Gone Bad
This behavior is not limited to industry and affiliated groups, the authors alleged. The report cites safety studies funded by governments, such as a U.K.-backed report which supposedly relied on incomplete and outdated information to conclude that mesothelioma cases tied to chrysotile were caused by other forms of asbestos.
Another case involved a book published by the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer that supposedly used selective references and quotes to convey information that has since been refuted.
“The persisting strong influence of vested asbestos-related interests in workers and public health issues, including regulations and compensation, necessitate ongoing alertness, corrections and appropriate reactions in scientific as well as public media and policy advisory bodies,” the authors wrote.