Kathleen Ruff, RightOnCanada
Supposed “independent scientist” lobbied government of Indonesia behind the scenes to keep using asbestos
The International Chrysotile Association (ICA) defends the interests of the global asbestos industry. Companies in Russia, Kazakhstan, Brazil, India, Thailand and elsewhere, that mine asbestos or sell asbestos products, finance the ICA in order for it to initiate activities to encourage use of asbestos, particularly in Asian countries, where 70% of all asbestos is used today. The ICA is based in Quebec. Its directors meet regularly in different cities around the world to plan its activities.
In 2010, Clément Godbout (then President of the ICA, as well as President of the Quebec Chrysotile Institute) proposed to the ICA that it finance an article, entitled ”Revisit the health risk assessment of chrysotile”.
David Bernstein, who has worked very closely with the asbestos industry for many years and has received millions of dollars from asbestos companies, submitted “an action plan” to the ICA with regard to the proposed article.
On April 15, 2010, Godbout informed Bernstein that the ICA had approved the proposed article and accompanying action plan:
To: Bernstein David; ‘Jacques Dunnigan’
Sent: Thursday, April 15, 2010 7:39 PM
Subject: Revisit the health risk assessment of chrysotile
This is to confirm that you have the “green light” for the above referenced study.
After review and discussions, the action plan that you submitted was accepted.
Hoping that everything goes well, it seems appropriate that you start now to draw a list of scientists who could potentially work on this very important project.
On April 16, 2010, Bernstein sent the following message to Godbout:
De: David Bernstein
Envoye: 16 avril 2010 02:45
A : ICA; ‘Jacques Dunnigan’
Objet: Re: Revisit the health risk assessment of chrysotile
Thank you very much for the confirmation. I look forward tow (sic) working with you and Jacques on this study.
1 just returned from Jakarta where the presentations were well received. Sri said that the government was very positive about continuing the use of chrysotile in Indonesia. In addition to the presentations on the substitutes and the scientific persectives (sic), Sri asked me to present the presentation on the WHO’s asbestos stance. This was given for both the government audience and the physicians/university audiance (sic) and well received by both. The Indonesian WHO representative was present and was very impressed.
David M. Bernstein, Ph.D.
Consultant in Toxicology
Independent scientist or industry lobbyist?
This communication reveals Bernstein’s relationship with the ICA to be more that of a hired lobbyist, rather than that of an independent scientist. While referring in the same email to the supposedly independent scientific article that Bernstein was about to undertake, the email shows Bernstein being paid by the asbestos industry to carry out behind the scenes political lobbying on Indonesian government officials to achieve continued use of chrysotile asbestos in Indonesia.
It is impossible to tell where the asbestos industry ends and Bernstein begins. In his cosy relationship with the asbestos lobby organisation, Bernstein rejoices with them over his successful efforts to ensure continued use of asbestos in Indonesia.
Bernstein refers, with glowing self-praise, to the presentation he made to the Indonesian government officials regarding the “WHO’s asbestos stance”.
The World Health Organization’s “asbestos stance” was adopted in 2006 and calls for an end to any use of chrysotile asbestos anywhere in the world in order to prevent further epidemics of asbestos-related diseases.
It is clear that Bernstein did not present the WHO position at his meeting with Indonesian government officials. For years, Bernstein and the asbestos industry have tried in every way possible to sabotage and misrepresent the WHO position, even making the nonsensical claim that the WHO position, put forward by the Director General of the WHO, Margaret Chan, and put forward in WHO publications and on its website and put forward by the WHO at UN meetings and being implemented by the WHO in a variety of WHO programs, is not the position of the WHO.
Scientist’s close ties to the asbestos industry not disclosed in articles
In February 2013, the scientific journal, Critical Reviews in Toxicology, published Bernstein’s article “Health risks of chrysotile revisited”. The journal included a statement by Bernstein that he had received a grant from the ICA to write the article. This was a totally false statement. There was no grant. Bernstein billed the ICA by the hour for fee for service, just as he billed the ICA for his lobbying services.
Neither did Bernstein disclose his intimate, long-time ties with the asbestos industry and his extensive involvement in helping the industry promote use of chrysotile asbestos.
Bernstein’s co-author, Jacques Dunnigan, is a longtime employee and consultant for the asbestos industry and has long involvement in the industry’s efforts to promote use of chrysotile asbestos. Dunnigan’s deep connections with the asbestos industry were not disclosed.
A complaint was made to the editor of Critical Reviews in Toxicology, Roger McClellan, asking that the article be withdrawn because of these grave ethical improprieties.
No answer has been received from Dr. McClellan. It seems that the editor of Critical Reviews in Toxicology does not consider ethical improprieties in his journal to be of any importance.
A New York court has ruled that a number of other articles, written by Bernstein and published in other scientific journals, constituted potential crime-fraud. Bernstein claimed that an asbestos company had given him a grant to do this work. This was a falsehood. No grant existed. In fact, rather than being independent work, the articles were under the control of the asbestos company’s lawyers. This was not disclosed in the articles.
The ICA is now energetically implementing the action plan for the Bernstein article they financed. They used the article in their recent lobbying efforts in Pakistan to oppose a proposed ban on asbestos. Bernstein presented the paper at a conference to promote asbestos use, organised by the ICA in Manila, the Philippines, in October 2013. Bernstein presented the paper at a conference to promote asbestos use, organised by the ICA in New Delhi, India, in December 2013.
The notes of ICA meetings express their determination to “make known the study to everyone at local international levels as well as to competent authorities of international organization like ILO, WHO, IARC etc.”
Bernstein covering up his industry connection in the media, at conferences and in court
Bernstein presents himself to the public as an independent scientist and covers up his financial connections with the asbestos industry. When promoting the use of chrysotile asbestos in media interviews and at conferences and in court, Bernstein does not disclose his financial conflict of interest.
When testifying in a court case regarding chrysotile asbestos that came from a Union Carbide mine in California, Bernstein evaded answering the question as to who had financed his studies. He was asked: “Would it refresh your recollection if I showed you Union Carbide’s responses to interrogatories in litigation where they say they paid you $400,623.20?”
Bernstein continued to evade the question until finally the Judge, in exasperation, intervened with extremely direct language to compel Bernstein to answer:
Judge: “Listen. Can you hear me? Can you see and hear me? Read my lips. How much did Union Carbide, through their attorneys, pay you?”
Finally, Bernstein admitted that he had received funds from Union Carbide and that all his work had been financed by the asbestos industry. Bernstein also agreed that no scientific body supported his conclusions on the harmlessness of chrysotile asbestos.
Question: “And you agree with me that as we sit here today you can show this jury no scientific body that has accepted your conclusions with respect to chrysotile asbestos; isn’t that right?”
Bernstein: “That’s correct.”1
In an article in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, Italian scientist, Prof. Bice Fubini, stated how disturbed she was to learn about Bernstein’s relationship to the asbestos industry, particularly since she had known Bernstein for 18 years and had heard him speak at international conferences. “He never disclosed these links,” said Fubini.
Bernstein’s services to the asbestos industry in Thailand
In paying Bernstein’s bills for his services, the ICA and Bernstein make no distinction between paying him for writing the article or paying him for his asbestos promotion activities. They are combined into one payment. Below, for example, is a message from Bob Pigg, the treasurer for the ICA, regarding payment for a processing charge for Bernstein’s article (1,530 Swiss Francs) and payment for Bernstein’s “recent work/services in Thailand” (33,566.30 Swiss Francs) for “a grand total of 33,566.30 Swiss Francs” (US $ 37,307.00).
Clement has just sent down the info to me re article processing charge for publication in Particle and Fibre Toxicology.
Since I plan to wire transfer to you tomorrow, April 1, an amount of 32,036.30 for your recent work/services in Thailand I propose to add 1,530 Swiss Francs (US$1,665) for a grand total of 33,566.30 Swiss Francs.
Would appreciate your letting me know if this is acceptable to you. It would be helpful on my end.
Failure of scientific journals to protect integrity of scientific literature
Bernstein rendered services to the tobacco industry for many years, until they apparently decided that his work was no longer of use to them. He then switched to asbestos. The asbestos industry is very pleased with him and makes constant use of his services, even inviting him to attend executive meetings of the ICA.
The role Bernstein plays seems more like the role of a lobbyist or public relations person than an independent scientist.
When editors of scientific journals, such as Roger McClellan, permit the cover up of close financial and other improper ties between an author and an industry organisation, they contaminate the scientific literature, they betray the scientific community and they undermine the possibility of protecting public health.