Lawyers launch court action to hide scientist’s work for asbestos lobby organisation

Mon, Sep 7, 2015


Kathleen Ruff,

In a court document filed on September 4, 2015, lawyers for Union Pacific Railroad Company seek to hide evidence regarding the fact that a scientist, Robert Nolan, was paid by an asbestos lobby organisation to assist its efforts to defeat a proposed ban on asbestos in Malaysia.

Nolan is a witness for the company in a U.S. court case concerning the death of a worker from asbestos-related lung diseases. The lawyers are asking a judge to prohibit the introduction of evidence ‘Regarding Dr. Nolan’s Association with the International Chrysotile Institute or Claims he is a Paid Advocate for the “Chrysotile Industry”’.

The lawyers wish to present Nolan as an independent, reputable scientist and do not want the jury to know of his work for the global asbestos lobby. They argue that Nolan’s work for the asbestos lobby should be excluded because it would “(1) necessitate undue consumption of time, (2) cause undue prejudice, (3) confuse the issues and (4) mislead the jury.”

In 2015 Nolan was paid $26,000 to make two trips to Malaysia (one in February 2015 and one in May 2015) to make presentations to assist efforts by the asbestos industry to defeat a proposed ban on asbestos. Nolan and the lawyers state that Nolan was paid by the Chrysotile Institute to carry out these activities. This is incorrect. The Chrysotile Institute, a registered lobby organisation for Quebec asbestos mining companies, was legally dissolved in March 2013.

The lawyers also state in their court document that Nolan was working for the “International Chrysotile Institute”. No such organisation exists.

The organisation that, in fact, hired and paid Nolan the $26,000 is the International Chrysotile Association (ICA). The ICA, still based in Quebec, promotes the interests of the global asbestos industry and is predominantly controlled and financed by Russia and Kazakhstan, whose asbestos exports represent 80% of the world’s asbestos trade today.

The treasurer of the ICA is Bob Pigg in the USA, who has worked for the asbestos industry for decades. For many years, he was president of the Asbestos Information Association/North America, an organization which represented 45 North American companies engaged in the mining, milling and sale of asbestos fiber and in the manufacture, sale and use of products containing asbestos.

Nolan stated in his court deposition: “I’ve known Bob Pigg for over thirty years. I’ve worked with him most of my professional life.” Pigg paid Nolan the $26,000 on behalf of the ICA.

Why the ICA sent Nolan to Malaysia

The ICA paid Nolan to go to Malaysia to help its efforts to defeat a ban on asbestos that the Malaysian government’s Department of Occupational Safety and Health put forward in 2011. See Asbestos Banning Proposal. The proposed ban received public support. The ICA therefore in 2011 hired a powerful lobby organisation, APCO Worldwide to carry out a campaign to defeat the proposed ban.

As well as Nolan, the ICA paid David Bernstein to go to Malaysia in 2011 to help defeat the ban. Bernstein has worked for and with asbestos lobby organisations for many years to promote use of chrysotile asbestos, having previously done work for tobacco companies.

In addition to his work in Malaysia, Nolan has also been paid by the ICA to make presentations at the following meetings, organised by asbestos interests to promote the use of asbestos:

  • Indonesia (April 2010)
  • Kiev (November 2012)
  • Manila (October 2013)
  • New Delhi (December 2013)
  • Hanoi (December 2014)

Nolan also made a presentation on asbestos at a conference held in Ekaterinburg, the major asbestos mining region of Russia, in 2013.

Scientific and ethical improprieties

It is shocking that, in making his presentations in Malaysia, Nolan did not even know for which asbestos lobby organisation he was working or who exactly was providing the funds he received.

It is shocking that an asbestos lobby organisation, promoting the financial interests of Russian and Kazakhstan asbestos mines, is intervening in the domestic affairs of a foreign country to sabotage efforts by Malaysian government health experts to stop use of asbestos and protect the population from asbestos harm.

Among the deceptive practices employed by Nolan in his Power Point presentation, Scientific Update on Safe Use of Asbestos, which he delivered to government officials in Malaysia, are the following:

Nolan did not disclose his conflict of interest and that his presentation was financed by an organisation representing the interests of asbestos exporters and sellers.

Nolan did not disclose the fact that his views, supporting use of chrysotile asbestos, have been utterly rejected by every scientific body that has examined the asbestos issue, including IARC, the World Health Organization, the Union for International Cancer Control, the International Commission on Occupational Health, the International Joint Policy Committee of Societies of Epidemiology, the Collegium Ramazzini, the International Social Security Association, the World Federation of Public Health Associations.

Nolan did not disclose that the only organisations that support his views are organisations that profit from selling asbestos and asbestos products and that these organisations, in fact, financed his presentation.

Nolan used inaccurate information to downplay the health risks of chrysotile asbestos. Nolan cited outdated data from Hodgson and Darnton from 2000, while ignoring the fact that Hodgson and Darnton had retracted this data in 2009, replacing it with new data that shows higher risk presented by chrysotile asbestos.

Nolan put forward disparaging comments seeking to create doubt about the classification of chrysotile asbestos as a Group 1 carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). Nolan did not disclose the fact that IARC has categorically stated that all use of chrysotile asbestos should stop in order to protect populations from asbestos-related diseases.

Nolan identified himself as President of the International Environmental Research Foundation. The name implies that this is a significant, respected international organization. It is not. The Foundation consists of two people: Nolan and Charles W. Axten. When questioned, Nolan said he could not recall how many years ago the directors of the Foundation last held a meeting. Aylen stated that he personally collects the mail for the International Environmental Research Foundation at Post Office Box 3622, Grand Central Station, New York.

The only financial statements posted on the website of the Foundation are for 2001, 2002 and 2003. Nolan stated he did not know why there were no financial statements posted for the past 12 years. He said that possibly this was because the Foundation had done so little work in those years, it was below the level that legally required an audited statement to be filed.

Nolan is also the sole owner and President of a for-profit company entitled Environmental Studies International, LLC.  Funds paid for Nolan’s work testifying in court and other private activities are paid to this company.

The ICA posted Nolan’s Malaysia presentation on its website. Following its customary unethical practice, the ICA did not disclose that it financed the presentation. Instead, the ICA and Nolan put forward the presentation as coming from an organisation with a prestigious-sounding name, the International Environmental Research Foundation.

Similarly, the lawyers in the court case are seeking to hide Nolan’s funding by the asbestos lobby. The motion to exclude this information will be heard by a judge on September 14, 2015.

With the help of Nolan and Bernstein, the asbestos lobby has succeeded in preventing the ban on asbestos in Malaysia. proposed in 2011, from going forward.


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