Scientists gave false information and failed to disclose their close ties to the asbestos industry
November 25, 2013
Dear Dr. McClellan,
We wish to make a complaint to you regarding the article, Health Risks of Chrysotile Revisited, which was published by Critical Reviews in Toxicology (Crit Rev Toxicol, 2013; 43(2): 154–183).
We believe the article violates ethical standards of disclosure that all scientists and scientific publications are expected to uphold. Below are details of what, in our judgment, constitute serious ethical violations.
1) The Declaration of Interests provided in the article states that the preparation of the article was supported by a grant from the International Chrysotile Association (ICA). This is a false statement. There was no grant from the ICA. The Treasurer and Director General of the ICA, Mr. Bob Pigg has confirmed that no ICA grant existed and that, in fact, Dr. Bernstein and Dr. Dunnigan billed the ICA on an hourly fee for service basis. Dr. Bernstein’s invoices amounted to $200,000 for his services and Dr. Dunnigan’s invoices amounted to $35,000.
Dr. Bernstein has made similar false statements in a number of other published articles on chrysotile asbestos that were financed by an asbestos products company, Georgia-Pacific. Dr. Bernstein claimed that he had received a grant from Georgia-Pacific company and had carried out the work as an independent scientist. In fact, however, no such grant existed. Dr. Bernstein worked as a consultant under the supervision of the litigation department of Georgia-Pacific on an hourly fee for service basis. A New York court has ruled that such conduct by Dr. Bernstein constitutes potential crime-fraud.
Clearly, the false statement of a non-existent grant, published in the article in Critical Reviews in Toxicology and in the other scientific articles, constitutes a dishonest practice on the part of Dr. Bernstein, that violates the ethical standards that the scientific community expects any reputable scientist and any reputable scientific publication to uphold.
2) Dr. Bernstein did not disclose that he was paid by the ICA to not only write the article, but to also carry out lobbying efforts on behalf of the ICA. Dr. Bernstein contacted the UN Rotterdam Convention secretariat, using the article to try to influence them to be favourable to the ICA’s efforts to defeat the listing of chrysotile asbestos as a hazardous substance under the Convention. In addition to constituting undisclosed lobbying on behalf of the ICA, this was improper conduct by Dr. Bernstein, as industry groups are not supposed to lobby the Rotterdam Secretariat behind the scenes.
3) Dr. Bernstein did not disclose that he has for a number of years received significant amounts of money from the ICA and other asbestos industry organisations to assist them in their efforts to defeat proposed bans on asbestos and to assist them in their efforts to promote use of chrysotile asbestos. Dr. Bernstein has been paid by asbestos industry organisations to take part in such events in Brazil, Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines and Indonesia, for example.
4) Dr. Dunnigan did not declare his longtime financial connection to the ICA, the Chrysotile Institute and other asbestos industry organisations. Dr. Dunnigan worked for the Chrysotile Institute for thirteen years as an employee and since then has worked for them as a consultant. He was in charge of selecting the scientific publications for the website of the Chrysotile Institute and is now listed on the ICA website as playing the same role for the ICA. He has been paid by the asbestos industry for many years to play a leading role in helping the asbestos industry promote use of chrysotile asbestos.
When promoting use of chrysotile asbestos to the public, neither Dr. Bernstein nor Dr. Dunnigan disclose that they are being paid by the asbestos industry to do so. See, for example, Expert pushes for controlled use ban on asbestos, Business Mirror, November 19, 2013. We consider this to be unethical conduct on their part. This is outside your sphere of responsibility. However, when, in an article published by Critical Reviews in Toxicology, Dr. Bernstein and Dr. Dunnigan fail to disclose their longtime financial connections with the asbestos industry, this is part of your sphere of responsibility. Your readers have the right and the need to be informed of these financial connections.
We know that you are a personal friend of Dr. Bernstein and that you personally have received $35,792.55. to testify on behalf of an asbestos company. However, these are not reasons to allow Dr. Bernstein and Dr. Dunnigan to violate expected ethical standards by not disclosing critical long-time financial connections between themselves and the chrysotile asbestos industry, when they made their Declaration of Interests, in their article in Critical Reviews in Toxicology on chrysotile asbestos, which article endorsed the position of the chrysotile asbestos industry that chrysotile asbestos can be safely used.
We ask that you withdraw the article in question because of the serious ethical violations, outlined above.
We look forward to receiving a detailed response from you and hope that you will demonstrate that your publication does indeed support proper ethical standards.
Kathleen Ruff, B.Ed., MA, author, Exporting Harm: How Canada Markets Asbestos to the Developing World; recipient of the 2011 National Public Health Hero Award from the Canadian Public Health Association for exposing the inaccurate propaganda of the asbestos industry; recipient of Collegium Ramazzini Special Award, 2013; co-coordinator, Rotterdam Convention Alliance; senior human rights adviser to the Rideau Institute, Canada.
Dr. Yv Bonnier-Viger, MD, MSc, MM, CMSQ, FRCPC, Medical Specialist in Public Health and Preventive Medicine; Director, Department of Social and Preventive Medicine, Faculty of Medicine, Laval University, Québec; Président, Association des médecins spécialistes en santé communautaire du Québec, Canada
Dr. Fernand Turcotte, MD, MPH, FRCPC, Professor Emeritus of Preventive Medicine and Public Health, Faculté de médecine, Université Laval, Québec, Canada
Dr. Domyung Paek, MD, MSc, ScD, Professor, Occupational and Environmental Medicine, School of Public Health, Seoul National University, Korea
Dr. Jean Zigby, MD, Family Physician, Palliative Care Specialist; President, Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment, Canada