Asbestos and fossil fuel industries continue to wage war on science

Mon, Sep 14, 2020


Kathleen Ruff,

In Canada and other countries governments tell us repeatedly that in order to deal responsibly with the Covid-19 pandemic, they must and will base their policies on scientific evidence.

A question that needs to be asked is: Why is this not the normal practice?

Whether it is the asbestos industry, the fossil fuel industry or other harmful industries, over and over again we see how governments ignore independent scientific evidence and instead allow industry lobbyists to control public policy, resulting in huge human, environmental and economic disasters.

The war on science by vested interests is also a war on democracy. It means that people and the environment are harmed. It means that the public interest is betrayed.

The scientific evidence has been clear for decades that the use of fossil fuels is destroying the health of people and the planet and that asbestos is a deadly product. But the asbestos and fossil fuel industries continue to reject the scientific evidence. They use deceptive tactics to promote use of  their product.

Here are some current examples of deceptive tactics being used by the asbestos lobby.

1) Asbestos lobby misrepresents findings of Quebec government’s Commission of Inquiry into asbestos and asbestos mining wastes

The International Chrysotile Association (ICA), based in Quebec, is funded by and lobbies on behalf of asbestos interests in Russia, Kazakhstan, India, Zimbabwe and Mexico. On August 17, 2020, the ICA published an article entitled: The Quebec Government’s Consultative Panel on the Environment endorses the valorization and the exploitation of serpentine mining residues. (Note: In referring to “serpentine mining residues”, the ICA is referring to Quebec’s asbestos mining wastes that contain up to 40% asbestos.)

What the ICA omits is that the Commission stated that projects to commercialize the asbestos mining wastes must not go ahead unless strict safety measures to protect the health of workers and the nearby communities are first put in place. Those safety measures do not currently exist and the ICA is fighting against these safety measures.

What the ICA omits is that the Commission rejected all the arguments of the ICA.

  • The ICA argues that exposure of workers to high levels of chrysotile asbestos fibres (1 fibre of asbestos per cubic centimetre of air, 1 f/cc), as is currently permitted by Quebec’s regulations, causes no harm to health. The Commission rejected this argument and called for immediate action to make Quebec’s occupational exposure standard ten times more rigorous.
  • The ICA argues that environmental exposure to asbestos for the Quebec communities living next to the mountains of asbestos mining wastes causes no health problems. The Commission rejected this argument and stated that new, strict measures to protect the communities from environmental exposure to asbestos must be put in place before any projects to commercialize the asbestos mining wastes are permitted.

2) Asbestos lobby misrepresents research regarding harm caused to Quebec asbestos mining communities by environmental exposure to asbestos

In its 2019 report, Chrysotile Safety – Requirements & Achievements, which it uses to promote the sale of chrysotile asbestos in developing countries, the ICA states: “Modern studies (Camus, 1998) of the very large population who live near chrysotile mines or on chrysotile ore bodies has shown that there is no excess asbestos-related disease in these areas.”

This is false. The author cited by the ICA, Michel Camus, sent a written submission to the Commission of Inquiry on March 27, 2020 on the risks of lung cancers and mesothelioma incurred by the residents of the Quebec asbestos mining towns. Camus stated that he wished to correct the biased interpretation that some were putting forward of the studies he and colleagues carried out on the risks of cancer for women in he towns of Thetford Mines and Asbestos. Camus categorically repudiated what the ICA stated.

Camus told the Commission:

  • Cancer risks at asbestos concentrations (measured 16 years ago) in the chrysotile asbestos mining towns signify risks 10 times too high for pure chrysotile asbestos and up to 50 times too high, depending on the level of amphibole asbestos present.
  • It would be immoral today to increase the levels of environmental asbestos exposure in Thetford Mines or Asbestos.
  • Instead, environmental exposure to asbestos and the associated cancer risks for people in the two towns should be lowered, whether the mining residues are exploited or not. (translation)

Camus also recommended that:

  • No operation or manipulations of the asbestos fibres should go ahead until the occupational exposure regulation is changed to 0.1 f/cc.
  • The occupational exposure standard should subsequently be made as close as possible to 0.01 f/cc.
  • Public health authorities should be given the legal means to enforce their conditions.

3) Asbestos lobby wages war on scientists at the World Health Organization (WHO)

For years the asbestos lobby has attacked, harassed and sought to intimidate scientists at the WHO in an effort to make the WHO change its position and support the use of chrysotile asbestos. Just like Donald Trump, the ICA seized on the Covid-19 pandemic as an opportunity to vilify WHO scientists and exert pressure on the WHO in an effort to make the WHO serve the interests of the asbestos industry. On May 20, 2020, the ICA published a report stating: “Since the end of the 1970s, the use of asbestos fibre, including chrysotile, has been the object of a ferocious, almost zealot-like crusade for its total banishment. High ranking individuals within the WHO regularly step outside the bounds of the organization’s own guidelines and rules to put their weight behind the crusade and orchestrate a worldwide campaign to ban all asbestos fibres.”

The ICA alleges that the WHO has been kidnapped by anti-asbestos activists and is acting illegally in calling for an end to use of any form of asbestos. This is utter nonsense but is one of the ICA’s weapons to wage war on science.

4) Asbestos lobby wages war on the Rotterdam Convention’s scientific committee

Since 2006, the asbestos lobby has over and over again killed the recommendation of the Rotterdam Convention’s expert scientific committee, composed of scientists from around the world, that chrysotile asbestos be put on the Convention’s list of hazardous substances. Chrysotile asbestos meets all the criteria to be put on the list. But at every Rotterdam Convention conference a tiny number of countries controlled by the asbestos lobby block its listing by refusing consensus.

In its effort to obliterate the recommendation of the scientific committee, the ICA uses its favoured tactic of vilifying the scientists. In a rather incoherent attack published on May 10, 2019 on the Rotterdam Convention’s upcoming 9th Conference of the Parties (COP 9), entitled ANOTHER ANTI-ASBESTOS CONFERENCE AT COP 9, the ICA stated: “The fight to end the use of chrysotile (asbestos) has undermined that Convention and the Secretariat has accepted that the Convention turned itself into a mission against chrysotile (asbestos). The message from numerous competent authorities is crystal clear. Propaganda, extrapolation, hypothesis, and lobsters’ traps must cease and so being the end of the anti-asbestos Convention.”

5) Asbestos lobby uses Covid-19 pandemic to market asbestos to developing countries

The asbestos industry, just like the tobacco and fossil fuels industry, says that it is motivated by virtuous desire to benefit humanity. In a statement of August 28, 2020, entitled Chrysotile and post-COVID: helping the most vulnerable, the ICA says: “Chrysotile (asbestos) is among the affordable solutions accessible to emerging countries who want to build much needed water and sanitation infrastructures – as well as rooftops – to give their populations decent living and sanitary conditions.” The ICA states that: “chrysotile (asbestos) products may be made safely and used without concerns. The great chrysotile (asbestos) fibre in its use today is a boon to people, for the economy and also for the environment.”

The ICA sent out this false information on the supposed safety of chrysotile asbestos to government regulators in developing countries.

The ICA  did not mention that it is only those who profit from selling chrysotile asbestos who promote its use and deny its harm. Every scientific organisation in the world that has studied chrysotile asbestos has concluded that it is deadly and its use should be ended.

The war on science is the biggest threat to the planet

Whether it be harm caused by the fossil fuel industry or the asbestos industry, we will not be able to protect people or the planet from deadly harm until we take action to end the capture of government policy by toxic industries.

We must demand a revolutionary new normal: that government policy be based on independent, transparent scientific evidence that serves the public good.

Unless we do that, our chances of protecting people and the planet are in peril.

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One Response to “Asbestos and fossil fuel industries continue to wage war on science”


  1. […] Whether it is the asbestos industry, the fossil fuel industry or other harmful industries, over and over again we see how governments ignore independent scientific evidence and instead allow industry lobbyists to control public policy, resulting in huge human, environmental and economic disasters. Read More […]

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