McGill challenged on asbestos industry financed research

Mon, Feb 4, 2013

Asbestos, Misc.

February 4, 2013

Re: Response to Professor Fuks, Research Integrity Officer at McGill, regarding his report on McGill/McDonald asbestos research

To: Faculty and others McGill University

Over the past ten years, several researchers and I have written letters of complaint questioning the integrity of the ongoing McGill/McDonald studies on asbestos. Recently, Dr. Abraham Fuks submitted an investigation report regarding the McDonald studies to Dean David Eidelman.

To sum up our concerns briefly, the data used for the 1998 paper was so problematic that the authors actually wrote that “taken at face value” the results indicated that asbestos exposed workers had lower cancer rates than the general population. This was a nonsensical result since after the Selikoff conference in October 1964 no one disputed that asbestos was a lung carcinogen. The McGill researchers then deleted data points until the data showed that asbestos exposure was “innocuous.”[1]

This is not merely an academic debate. The asbestos industry and its consultants (including Dr. McDonald, who has testified for companies and in front of the World Trade Organization regarding the benign nature of asbestos) have used and continue to use the “innocuous” characterization and other similar comments belittling the toxicity of asbestos to promote the use of asbestos in developing countries. This remains a current problem. The McGill research has been misused to remake this same argument in a paper, Health risk of chrysotile revisited, which was financed by discredited chrysotile asbestos lobby organisations (the International Chrysotile Association and the Montreal Chrysotile Institute[2]) and published this month. (See attached). Dr. McDonald has, in fact, in the past, collaborated with the lead author of the paper (David Bernstein) and several of the co-authors in lobby efforts to persuade the World Health Organization[3] and the government of Brazil[4] to approve use of chrysotile asbestos.

Professor Fuks, Research Integrity Officer at McGill, produced a woefully inadequate response to our complaint that failed to consider most of our arguments. For example, he was unable to obtain any of the original data including the location or names of the mines that were studied. Dr. McDonald last published a paper based on this data in 2010. Certainly the underlying data must be maintained for at least three years particularly in view of the fact that one of us (DE) filed a complaint in 2002.

We ask that you review our detailed response to Dr. Fuks’ report (attached) and request that the University invite independent researchers to conduct a review of our accusations. If Professor Fuks is correct then an independent review can only buttress his conclusions.

We have attached the following three key papers mentioned above:

The Liddell, McDonald, and McDonald 1998 paper describing data manipulation in the appendix.

McDonald’s latest (2010) paper, which repeats the problematic data.

The most recent use of McDonald’s conclusion that asbestos is “innocuous.”


Dr. David Egilman*, Clinical Professor Department of Family Medicine, Brown University; Editor International Journal of Occupational & Environmental Health

Prof. Fernand Turcotte, Professor Emeritus of Public Health & Preventive Medicine

Kathleen Ruff, Senior Human Rights Adviser, Rideau Institute;Founder,

*Dr. Egilman has testified in asbestos litigation at the request of both asbestos manufacturing companies and workers who have died as a result of asbestos exposure.

[1]“Years in the highest relevant dust category were pooled with those in the adjacent category and the analysis was repeated. This process was iterated until either all coefficients had become positive, when it was terminated, or until the only negative coefficient was for category 1; in that circumstance category 1 was eliminated from the model, which was equivalent to setting the coefficient to zero and the odds ratio to unity. Admittedly, there was a degree of arbitrariness in some of the pooling carried out but every effort was made to retain any ‘significant’ effects.” [Emphasis added] Liddell FD, McDonald AD, McDonald JC. Dust exposure and lung cancer in Quebec chrysotile miners and millers. Ann Occup Hyg. 1998 Jan;42(1):7-20

[2]“It is our view as Canadian experts in epidemiology and occupational medicine and as public health advocates that the Chrysotile Institute is endangering public health by disseminating misleading and untruthful information about chrysotile asbestos, especially in the world’s emerging economies.” Letter of January 23, 2009 to Prime Minister Harper from Dr. Fernand Turcotte, Dr. Pierre Auger et al.

[3} Letter to Margaret Chan, Director General, World Health Organization, February 27, 2007

[4} Presentation, Parliamentary Commission on Banning Asbestos, Brazil Chamber of Deputies, September 29, 1999

, , , , , , ,

Leave a Reply