McGill Asbestos Report is a Whitewash

Tue, Oct 23, 2012

Asbestos, Misc.

“The report released by McGill University, dismissing allegations of improper asbestos industry influence over the research and conduct of Prof. JC McDonald, is a whitewash,” says a leading anti-asbestos campaigner, Kathleen Ruff.

“The report is biased, misleading and inaccurate,” said Ruff. It excludes critical information, which was submitted to McGill, such as:

* Asbestos industry minutes show that Prof. McDonald collaborated with Johns Manville and asbestos industry leaders to suppress crucial medical evidence, which documented that asbestos was causing far more harm to workers’ health than the industry claimed and that stronger occupational safety protections were needed.

*Together with the asbestos industry, Prof. McDonald lobbied the U.S. Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA), to prevent the adoption of stricter asbestos exposure standards that would cost the industry millions of dollars, but would save lives. The asbestos industry and Prof. McDonald argued that exposure to high levels of asbestos caused no harm to health and should continue to be allowed.

Contrary to McGill’s claim, McDonald told the US regulatory agency OSHA that he received NO industry funds and instead identified himself solely as Chair of McGill’s Dept. of Epidemiology. He denied any connection with the asbestos industry. This was categorically untrue. He was, in fact, receiving large amounts of funding from and working closely with Quebec asbestos mining companies.

When directly challenged by a reporter on his denial of any connection with the industry, Prof. McDonald admitted that “Johns-Manville, together with other asbestos companies, helps support the Institute of Occupational and Environmental Health”, which funded McDonald’s research. “It is a very indirect relationship,” McDonald said.

This was deceptive since the Institute, like the Tobacco Institute, was an industry front organization, created, financed and controlled by asbestos companies. The chairman of Johns-Manville was the Institute’s chairman; the Institute’s other board members were asbestos industry executives.

*Prof. McDonald used his research to argue at a World Trade Organization tribunal that countries should not have the right to ban chrysotile asbestos (which represented 100% of the global asbestos trade), as it was virtually harmless.

McGill’s report claims that McDonald’s research “generated the information that led to the near complete disappearance of the asbestos industry in the developed world and the universal recognition of the toxicity of the product.”

“This is absolutely false,” stated David Egilman, Clinical Professor, Dept. of Family Medicine, Brown University. “Prof. McDonald is known around the world for denying harm caused by chrysotile asbestos and for promoting its use.”

“The toxicity of chrysotile asbestos continues to be denied in India, Russia and other countries, thanks to industry-funded studies, such as Prof. McDonald’s, claiming it is virtually innocuous,” said Dr. Colin Soskolne of the University of Alberta, Edmonton.

Dean Eidelman has implied to media that the World Health Organization (WHO) endorses Prof. McDonald’s research findings. “This is misleading,” said Dr Arthur Frank, Professor of Public Health, Drexel University, and a world-respected expert on asbestos. “The WHO has categorically rejected McDonald’s conclusions that chrysotile asbestos is virtually innocuous except at excessively high exposure levels.”

“Along with other scientists linked to the asbestos industry and who also promote use of asbestos, Prof. McDonald has unsuccessfully lobbied the WHO to drop its opposition to chrysotile asbestos use,” notes Dr Kapil Khatter of the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment.

In April 2012, Dean Eidelman said he asked McGill’s research integrity officer, Dr Abraham Fuks, for advice because McGill “does not currently have all required records and data in hand to assess definitively in regard to research integrity”. Six months later, the primary data on which McDonald’s research is founded, is still missing.

McGill was requested to carry out an independent, transparent, thorough investigation. Instead, it has carried out an internal review that is biased, self-serving and without transparency. McGill refused to disclose the terms of reference of the review, rejected concerns that the review process was flawed and excluded crucial damning information.

“This has been a public relations operation, not a credible investigation, and it brings dishonour on McGill” said Ruff. “What is needed is an outside, independent and transparent investigation. If McGill is confident about the quality of McDonald’s research, an independent panel will be helpful to them. However it is clear that they can’t handle the truth.”


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