Russian asbestos companies paid for scientific article that supports asbestos use

Wed, Nov 27, 2013


Kathleen Ruff,

The International Chrysotile Association (a lobby organisation for the global asbestos industry) is celebrating the publication of an article, Health Risks of Chrysotile Revisited, by the journal, Critical Reviews in Toxicology.

The article was written by two longtime advocates for asbestos use, who have worked extremely closely with and been financed by the asbestos industry for many years – David Bernstein, PhD and Jacques Dunnigan, PhD. Their article, as does everything they have written and said for the past decades, supports the asbestos industry’s position that chrysotile asbestos can be safely used.

The editor in chief of Critical Reviews in Toxicology, Roger McClellan, told Bernstein that the article “should be a useful contribution to the literature” and that he looked forward to receiving further submissions from Bernstein. McClellan was previously Chief Scientist and then Director of the Chemical Industry Institute for Toxicology. He was paid $35,792.55 to testify on behalf of an asbestos company, Union Carbide.

The article states that it was financed by a grant from the International Chrysotile Association (ICA). However, as the treasurer of the ICA, Bob Pigg, has admitted, there was no grant. Instead two authors of the article – Bernstein and Dunnigan – invoiced the ICA on an hourly fee for service basis for a total of $230,000.

It is noticeable that both the ICA and the authors of the article like to avoid use of the word “asbestos”. As a public relations tactic, the asbestos industry decided in 2005 to try to eliminate the word asbestos from its vocabulary and instead talk about “chrysotile”. In that year, the Asbestos International Association changed its name to the International Chrysotile Association and the Asbestos Institute renamed itself the Chrysotile Institute.

This change had the benefit of avoiding the word “asbestos”, with its negative connotation of asbestos-related diseases, and the benefit of creating confusion, as most people have no idea what “chrysotile” is. In fact, for the past two decades, chrysotile asbestos has represented 100% of the global asbestos trade. It represents 95% of all asbestos used over the past century.

Article invents and omits information in order to deny asbestos harm

It should be noted that the ICA calls Bernstein’s article a “study”. In fact, there was no study. Bernstein and Dunnigan simply wrote an article that supposedly reviewed the recent literature on chrysotile asbestos for a fee of $230,000.

It should also be noted that, as is their custom, Bernstein and Dunnigan omitted critical literature that contradicts the pro-asbestos message they always promote. For example, their article does not even mention the most recent International Agency for Research on Cancer (2012) review, which concluded “There is sufficient evidence in humans for the carcinogenicity of all forms of asbestos (chrysotile, crocidolite, amosite, tremolite, actinolite, and anthophyllite)”.

It should further be noted that the article puts forward totally unsubstantiated inventions in an effort to create confusion and to deny harm caused by chrysotile asbestos. For example, the article spends much time speculating, without any evidence, that workers in a South Carolina chrysotile asbestos textile mill might perhaps have also worked at a nearby US Navy Base, where other forms of asbestos had been used, and that this might have caused their asbestos-related disease.

As Dr. David Egilman has documented, this Anything But Chrysotile (ABC) myth has been used by the asbestos industry for decades in its efforts to deny the harm caused by chrysotile asbestos, just as the tobacco industry did so successfully for decades, to deny the harm caused by tobacco and tobacco smoke, with the resulting huge unnecessary loss of life for so many.

 Asbestos mining companies paid for the article

The ICA did not pay for the article out of its own annual $200,000 budget. These funds are raised by the ICA from its members, all of whom are involved in mining and selling asbestos or in making and selling asbestos products. The ICA wanted its own funds to be used to pay for its usual activities, promoting asbestos in developing countries and lobbying at the national and international level.

Therefore, the funds for the article had to come from somewhere else. The asbestos mining companies, who are members of the ICA, decided that they would pay for the article. They agreed to pay a “special contribution” to the ICA specifically to cover the costs of the article.

Four countries – Russia, China, Brazil and Kazakhstan – produce 99% of the global asbestos supply. China uses, within its own borders, almost all the asbestos it produces; in fact, China imports additional quantities. Thus the Chinese asbestos mining companies have no particular need for an article that would help promote the use of asbestos outside China.

Russia, on the other hand, produces half of the world’s asbestos supply (one million tons) and exports 85% of what it mines. Kazakhstan appears to export 99% of the asbestos it mines and Brazil exports about 50% of what it mines. Russia, Kazakhstan and Brazil therefore have a strong economic incentive to promote continued use of asbestos, particularly in Asia, their biggest customer by far.

Thus it seems likely that Russian asbestos mining companies provided the majority of the funding for the article, aided by Brazil and Kazakhstan.

Bernstein looked forward to working with asbestos lobbyist on the article

On April 15, 2010, Clément Godbout, then President of the ICA and President of the Chrysotile Institute and a registered lobbyist for the Quebec asbestos industry, sent an email to Bernstein and Dunnigan, telling them that the directors of the ICA had approved the writing of the article: “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.”

Bernstein responded to Godbout on April 16, 2010, saying he looked forward to working with Godbout on the article – hardly the stance an independent scientist would take:

“Dear Clement, Thank you very much for the confirmation. I look forward tow (sic) working with you and Jacques on this study.”

The other six persons listed as co-authors of the article, along with Bernstein and Dunnigan,  seem to have had very little involvement in its writing. Bernstein and Dunnigan billed for six drafts of the article without ever having contacted any of the listed co-authors. Even by December 1, 2011, Bernstein had made no mention of contacting these co-authors. One of the listed co-authors, Allen Gibbs, when questioned as to how much time he had spent as a co-author of the paper stated: “It’s quite a long paper, so there was quite a lot to read. Probably five or six hours.”

This is not the normal role expected of someone listed as a co-author. It looks more like shopping for names.

 ICA’s action plan to use Bernstein’s paper at the national and international level

In the minutes of their December 2012 executive meeting, the directors of the ICA expressed their satisfaction with Bernstein’s paper: “The study is presently at pre-publication and should be given a green light from the Journal of Critical Review in Toxicology in the very near future. All participants have indicated their satisfaction towards the work achieved by ICA regarding this study and have indicated their determination that ICA make known the study to everyone at local international levels as well as to competent authorities of international organization like ILO, WHO, IARC etc. As proposed by Chairman Mr. Leblond, members have accepted that financial resources be authorized accordingly and that a good action plan be prepared as soon as possible in order that ICA be well prepared.”

Seven of the twelve directors at the December 2012 meeting were from Russia or Kazakhstan, two from Brazil, two from Canada, and one from Mexico.

In an email of January 3, 2013 to the ICA directors, Jean-Marc Leblond, Chairman of the ICA, wrote enthusiastically “This study is the most important scientific publication peer-reviewed since the study of Bio persistency in 2003”.

Leblond’s enthusiasm for the bio-persistency study is not surprising. The Chrysotile Institute gave Bernstein a million dollars to carry out this study, which, according to Bernstein, showed that chrysotile asbestos fibres are quickly expelled from the lungs, causing no harm to health. In order to convey how much the lungs enjoy an exposure to chrysotile asbestos, Bernstein, in testifying in court on behalf of an asbestos company, used a graphic with happy faces on lungs experiencing an exposure to chrysotile asbestos.

The Chrysotile Institute published a press release in 2003 stating that they were “buoyed by the results” of Bernstein’s bio-persistence study, that they would now focus on “disseminating the results of the study to international bodies” and on “encouraging various players to increase their consumption of chrysotile (asbestos)”.

Bernstein’s conclusions about the harmlessness of chrysotile asbestos have been rejected by every reputable scientific body in the world. Bernstein has, however, for the past decade been financed by the asbestos industry to circle the globe promoting the industry’s message in countries, such as Indonesia, Thailand, Brazil, Malaysia, the Philippines, Colombia and India, that chrysotile asbestos is happily expelled from the lungs and can be “safely” used.

When he carries out these activities promoting asbestos use, Bernstein does not disclose that he is being paid by the asbestos industry to do so. Instead, he presents himself as an independent scientific expert.

Bernstein has also attended meetings of the ICA’s board of directors.

ICA plan to use Bernstein’s article to prevent the listing of chrysotile asbestos under the Rotterdam Convention

The ICA planned to use the new Bernstein article in its lobbying efforts to prevent chrysotile asbestos from being listed as a hazardous substance under the Rotterdam Convention. In his January 3, 2013 email to the ICA directors, Leblond noted that “This study will certainly be useful for the next COP6 meeting of the Rotterdam Convention now scheduled for early May 2013”.

As part of this plan, on January 28, 2013, Bernstein sent the ICA the following invoice:

David Bernstein

Geneva, 28 January 2013

INVOICE: no. 001022 for Services rendered for the period of January 2013

• Preparation of CD of the pdfs of the references included in Chrysotile Heath Risk

Revisited for the Rotterdam Convention and for distribution by ICA.

Honorarium & reprint costs: …………………………… 6,000.00 Swiss Francs

Total: …………………………………………………………. 6,000.00 Swiss Francs (Note: approx. US $6,600 )

ICA carrying out its action plan to use Bernstein’s article to promote asbestos use

The ICA is using its financial resources to make the most use possible of Bernstein himself and of his paper in order to promote asbestos use in Asia. In January 2013, ICA President, Mr. Leblond, used Bernstein’s article, Health Risks of Chrysotile Revisited, to lobby the government of Pakistan not to ban asbestos. In typical unethical conduct, Leblond did not disclose that the ICA had financed this paper. See Deadly, deceptive letter from the International Chrysotile Association.

In October 2013, the ICA sent Bernstein to the Philippines to present his paper at an ICA conference entitled “Latest Scientific Researches on Chrysotile”. While in the Philippines, Bernstein gave an interview to the Business Mirror newspaper, stating that chrysotile asbestos is “a very valuable product”, that it poses “little risk to the people’s health and environment” and that other substitute products may be “far worse” for health, as well as “more expensive and less efficient.”

While he is not trained as an economist, Bernstein did not hesitate to speak of the negative economic effects that would occur, should chrysotile asbestos be banned. A ban could lead to “loss of jobs to workers in its manufacturing plants”, Bernstein warned. He also painted the spectre of “litigation cases demanding not only hefty amounts of compensation from defendant companies but also big payments from the government”.

Shamelessly, in speaking to the media, Bernstein cited outdated and repudiated documents from the World Health Organization and the International Labor Organization as supporting Bernstein’s position in favour of “controlled use” of chrysotile asbestos.

No professional salesman could have done a better job.

On December 3 and 4, the ICA is sending Bernstein to present his paper at the conference that the ICA and the Asbestos Products Manufacturing Association of India are holding in New Delhi, entitled “Scientific update on safe use of chrysotile asbestos and related products”.

Hiding their close relationship with the asbestos industry

In their paper, just as in all their activities promoting asbestos use, Bernstein and Dunnigan fail to disclose their longtime, close financial ties to the asbestos industry.

In a letter, sent to Roger McClellan, Editor in Chief of Critical Reviews in Toxicology, who published the Bernstein and Dunnigan paper, scientists and health defenders called on the editor to withdraw the paper because of this serious ethical failure.


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