Continuing concerns regarding IARC’s asbestos study in Russia

Thu, Jul 11, 2013

Asbestos, Misc.

Kathleen Ruff, RightOnCanada

In the an article published in Cancer Epidemiology, IARC (the International Agency for Research on Cancer) puts forward information regarding the study it is carrying out in collaboration with two Russian institutions and a number of Russian scientists regarding cancer mortality in employees of the Uralasbest chrysotile asbestos mine and mills at Asbest, Russia. The study is financed by the Russian Ministry of Health.

IARC has been criticized by scientists around the world for appointing, as joint collaborators in this project, the Scientific Research Institute of Occupational Health of the Russian Academy of Medical Sciences (SRIOH-RAMS) and Russian scientists, who have for many years acted as political lobbyists for the Russian government’s policy of promoting continued use of chrysotile asbestos.

An earlier director of SRIOH-RAMS, Nikolai Izmerov, was, in fact, at the same time the president of the Russian Chrysotile Association (an industry lobby group). And SRIOH-RAMS continues its services to the asbestos industry today.

Most recently, in November 2012, SRIOH-RAMS organized a sham scientific conference whose purpose was to defeat the listing of chrysotile asbestos as a hazardous substance under the Rotterdam Convention at the upcoming May 2013 UN conference. Scientists who made presentations at the Kiev conference, such as David Bernstein, Nikolai Izmerov, Evgeny Kovalevskiy, Ericson Bagatin, Vivek Chandra Rao, Robert Nolan and Jacques Dunnigan, are promoters of chrysotile asbestos use and have been linked to or financed by the asbestos industry for many years.

As planned, the scientists attending the Kiev conference passed a resolution opposing the listing of chrysotile asbestos at the upcoming Rotterdam Convention conference.

At the May UN conference, Evgeny Kovalevskiy (IARC collaborator for the Uralasbest study) was part of the Russian government’s delegation and played a key role in arguing against the listing of chrysotile asbestos.

Just as the Canadian government for decades worked hand in glove with the Canadian asbestos industry to promote the sale of chrysotile asbestos, in the same way the Russian government works closely with the Russian asbestos industry to sell asbestos. 65% of all the asbestos exported around the world in 2012 was exported by Russia and the Russian government is determined to continue mining and exporting asbestos.

The Russian government claims that all the scientific data in Russia shows that chrysotile asbestos is being safely mined and used and no longer causes harm to health in Russia. Not a single scientist in Russia and not a single scientific institution in Russia has ever opposed the Russian government’s policy of promoting use of chrysotile asbestos, nor has any scientist ever challenged the Russian government’s claim that mining and use of chrysotile asbestos is causing no harm to health.

Concerns unanswered

The concerns expressed regarding the independence and integrity of the Russian institute (SRIOH-RAMS) and of the Russian scientists with whom IARC is collaborating have not, to date, been addressed by IARC. Nor has a complaint that Dr. Kovalevskiy, in lobbying for continued use of chrysotile asbestos around the world, violated fundamental ethical standards by misrepresenting, to the advantage of the industry, earlier research he had been involved in at the Uralasbest mine.

The reliability and integrity of health data related to asbestos, which is maintained and controlled by Russian government institutions, is also a matter of concern. The Ministry of Health, which is funding the study, is a strong supporter of chrysotile asbestos use.

What is the likelihood that inconvenient data that clashes with government wishes will be forthcoming? In Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions index, Russia rated amongst the most corrupt countries, coming 133rd out of 176 countries, with 176 being the most corrupt.

This is hardly encouraging.

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