Posts Tagged ‘chrysotile institute’
Journalist Christopher Booker may affect to doubt the human impact on the environment, and the wisdom of recycling targets for our household rubbish, but he appears to have fewer qualms when it comes to filling up space in his weekly Sunday Telegraph column.
In a warm review for the Spectator last month of the new book by fellow Sunday Telegraph pundit James le Fanu, Booker informed readers that “the greatest stumbling block” in Darwin’s theory of evolution was that:
evolution has repeatedly taken place in leaps forward so sudden and so complex that they could not possibly have been accounted for by the gradual process he suggested — the ‘Cambrian explosion’ of new life forms, the complexities of the eye, the post-Cretaceous explosion of mammals. Again and again some new development emerged which required a whole mass of interdependent changes to take place simultaneously, such as the transformation of reptiles into feathered, hollow-boned and warm-blooded birds…
What is psychologically fascinating about the mindset of the Darwinians is their inability to recognise just how much they do not know. As Le Fanu observes in a comment which might have served as an epigraph to his book, ‘the greatest obstacle to scientific progress is not ignorance but the illusion of knowledge’. Blinkered in their vision, armoured in the certainty that they have all the answers when they so obviously don’t, neo-Darwinians such as Richard Dawkins rest their beliefs just as much on an unscientific leap of faith as the ‘Creationists’ they so fanatically affect to despise.
In his column for today’s Sunday Telegraph, Booker tells readers that “one great stumbling block” for Darwin’s theory of evolution is that:
evolution has repeatedly taken place in leaps forward so sudden and so complex that they could not possibly have been accounted for by the gradual process he suggested – “the Cambrian explosion” of new life forms, the complexities of the eye, the post-Cretaceous explosion of mammals. Again and again some new development emerged which required a whole mass of interdependent changes to take place simultaneously, such as the transformation of reptiles into feathered, hollow-boned and warm-blooded birds…
What is fascinating about the Darwinians is their inability to accept just how much they do not know. Armoured in their certainty that they have all the answers when they so obviously don’t, neo-Darwinians such as Richard Dawkins rest their beliefs just as much on an unscientific leap of faith as the â Creationists’ they so fanatically affect to despise. It is revealing how they dismissively try to equate all those scientists who argue for ‘intelligent design’ with Biblical fundamentalists, as their only way to cope with questions they cannot answer.
In Don’t Get Fooled Again, I highlight Christopher Booker’s recycling of the asbestos industry’s pseudo-science in downplaying the health risks of white (“chrysotile”) asbestos.
It had to happen sooner or later…
Today I am launching a new and much-coveted award. It is called the Christopher Booker Prize. It will be presented to whoever manages, in the course of 2009, to cram as many misrepresentations, distortions and falsehoods into a single article, statement, lecture, film or interview about climate change. It is not to be confused with the Man Booker Prize, although that is also a prize for fiction.
The prize consists of a tasteful trophy made from recycled materials plus a one-way solo kayak trip to the North Pole, enabling the lucky winner to see for himself the full extent of the Arctic ice melt. Later this week, I will publish the full terms and conditions and unveil the beautiful trophy, which is currently being fashioned by master craftsmen in mid-Wales.
Having disproved man-made global warming, refuted Darwin’s theory of evolution, and proved that white asbestos is “chemically identical to talcum powder”, Christopher Booker this week returned to one of his favourite themes, the all-round-general-beastliness of the BBC.
…while the BBC was refusing to show an appeal for aid to the victims of Israeli bombing in Gaza, on the grounds that this might breach its charter obligation to be impartial, a rather less publicised row was raging over Newsnight’s doctoring of film of President Obama’s inaugural speech, which was used to support yet another of its items promoting the warming scare. Clips from the speech were spliced together to convey a considerably stronger impression of what Obama had said on global warming than his very careful wording justified. While that may have been unprofessional enough, the rest of the item, by Newsnight’s science editor, Susan Watts, was even more bizarre. It was no more than a paean of gratitude that we now at last have a president prepared to listen to the “science” on climate change, after the dark age of religious obscurantism personified by President Bush.
For the record, the full text of Obama’s inaugural address, including his comments on global warming, can be read here.
Poll: Is it right for the Sunday Telegraph to mislead the public about the health risks of asbestos?
The Sunday Telegraph columnist Christopher Booker has now written at least 41 different articles in which he repeatedly denies, downplays or misrepresents the scientific evidence around the health risks of white asbestos, often echoing the PR messages of the industry-funded “Chrysotile Institute”.
But is it fair for us to expect newspapers and newspaper columnists to tell the truth? YOU DECIDE:
In “Don’t Get Fooled Again”, I highlight Sunday Telegraph columnist Christopher Booker’s ongoing campaign to downplay the health risks of white asbestos. Both Booker and his main scientific source, John Bridle, have been linked to the industry-run “Chrysotile Institute”, whose claims about asbestos Booker’s columns often echo.
Now a group of health experts in Canada, one of the world’s largest exporters of white (chrysotile) asbestos, have called on the Canadian government to stop subsidising the Chrysotile Institute and it’s “nonsensical claims”:
The Canadian government is funding censorship and perversion of scientific information, charge a number of health experts in a strongly worded letter sent today to Prime Minister Harper.
The experts, from the Université de Laval and other universities across Canada, ask the Prime Minister to stop funding the Chrysotile Institute (formerly the Asbestos Institute) in his government’s January 27 budget.
“The Institute censors information from the world’s leading health authorities, distorts their views and puts forward nonsensical claims, for example that chrysotile asbestos disappears when it is mixed with cement and becomes harmless,” says Dr Colin Soskolne, Professor of Epidemiology at the University of Alberta. “This is not science; this is dangerous nonsense.”
“It is a slur on the reputation of the scientific community and people of Canada for the government to be funding such distortion of scientific information,” says Dr Tim Takaro, Associate Professor in the Faculty of Health Sciences, SFU. “But, more importantly, this misinformation puts people’s lives at risk. This is completely unethical and must stop.”
“Over the past 25 years, the government has given more than $20 million to support the dying asbestos industry in Quebec. Over 90% of the workers have lost their jobs; the remaining approximately 550 workers have had their wages slashed and work part-time; and in 2007, the asbestos mining company filed for bankruptcy protection,” said Kathleen Ruff, senior human rights advisor to the Rideau Institute. “It is time to stop this wasteful and unethical use of government funds. Instead, the government should help the remaining asbestos workers and the community with just transition assistance.”
Canadian Medical Association condemns government support for Chrysotile Institute’s “death-dealing charade”
From the Canadian Medical Association Journal
Asbestos mortality: a Canadian export
Next week, a handful of Canadian bureaucrats will fly to Rome for the 4th Conference of the Parties to the Rotterdam Convention, a treaty governing trade in substances that harm human health and the environment. Their mission? If past experience provides an accurate guide, they will be there, on behalf of the Government of Canada, to protect this country’s asbestos industry, even if that means contributing to asbestos-related illnesses and deaths in the developing world.
That is a harsh indictment, but Canada is the only Western democracy to have consistently opposed international efforts to regulate the global trade in asbestos.1–3 And the government of Canada has done so with shameful political manipulation of science.
Years ago, Australia, Chile and the European Union proposed adding chrysotile (the predominant asbestos fibre used today) to the list of substances governed by the Rotterdam Convention. The convention requires the exporting government to notify the importing government before a dangerous substance is shipped in their direction, so that the importing government can exercise informed consent about whether to receive the substance.4 In essence, it is a regime of politeness. The convention does not ban trade in hazardous substances and need not take away even a gram from Canada’s asbestos exports — unless, of course, an importing country’s government, when asked for consent, thought better of it and said no.
You might think that Canada’s government could have no possible objection to the convention and the polite rule of notice and informed consent. Yet you would be wrong. For several years, Canada has led a ferocious diplomatic opposition to listing chrysotile under the convention. Not a single Western democracy supports Canada’s position, so Canada has made allies of a few less picky countries including Iran, Russia and Zimbabwe.5
According to the Rotterdam Convention’s review committee, which assesses substances before they are listed under the convention, “chrysotile is unequivocally a human carcinogen.”6 The World Health Organization (WHO) and other international agencies agree.7–9 Even Canada’s government acknowledges that “all forms of asbestos fibres, including chrysotile, are carcinogenic.”5
However, Canada argues that “chrysotile is a less potent carcinogen … and consequently poses a lower health risk.”5 In an argument redolent of the tobacco industry’s playbook on light cigarettes, Canada defends chrysotile on the basis that it is safer than other forms of asbestos.
But to say that chrysotile is safer is not to say it is safe. To be sure, chrysotile is chemically different than other forms of asbestos, called amphiboles. Exposure to amphibole asbestos causes notorious occupational and environmental illness and death: WHO estimates 100 000 preventable deaths occur globally each year, mainly from mesothelioma and lung cancer.7 Whether the same diseases would result if asbestos was limited to pure chrysotile is endlessly debated.
Yet the debate is largely irrelevant. It is questionable whether “pure chrysotile” even exists: mines are not pristine environments and often contain mixed chrysotile and amphibole. Occupational exposure to chrysotile with even a trace amount of amphibole contamination (0.002%–0.310%) is sufficient for amphibole to accumulate in the lungs over a lifetime.10 Disturbingly, Canada’s government does not regularly monitor exported asbestos for amphibole contamination, so its claim to purvey a pure, safe product is made without evidence and is doubtful.
The fact that chrysotile can be contaminated with amphibole is an inconvenient truth that is often overlooked in industry-funded studies (see related News article, page 886).11 It is only by discounting the industry-funded publications that a clearer picture emerges. In studies of exposure to putatively pure chrysotile, there is a lesser, but still significant, rise in lung cancer and mesothelioma.12–15 In the latest meta-analysis, some chrysotile sources appear equally potent as amphibole in causing lung cancer.16,17 It is no wonder that WHO recommends that “the most efficient way to eliminate asbestos-related diseases is to stop using all types of asbestos.”7
And stopping the use of asbestos is precisely what Canada is doing — but only in Canada.
In a practice that reeks of hypocrisy, Canada has limited the use of asbestos to prevent the exposure of Canadians to the danger, but it continues to be the world’s second largest exporter of asbestos.18 Fully 96% of the asbestos that is produced in Canada is for export, primarily to developing countries such as India, Indonesia and Thailand, where it is mainly turned into asbestos cement for construction.5
Canada maintains that its export trade need not be dangerous, if the importing countries practise safe use and put “regulations, programs and practices equivalent to Canada’s … in place.” This argument seems self-serving. Most developed countries, including Canada, have concluded that their occupational health and safety systems were no match for handling asbestos safely, and so they transitioned to using effective and affordable alternatives.19 For Canada to pretend that India, Thailand and Indonesia can succeed in managing asbestos safely, when developed countries have failed, is fanciful.
Canada is more than just a major asbestos exporter. To keep the export industry alive, it has become an avid asbestos cheerleader. Ottawa has poured more than $19 million into the Chrysotile Institute, an advocacy group formerly called the Asbestos Institute before that name became unfashionable.5 Along with funds from the Government of Quebec, the institute is dedicated to promoting the safe-use canard and defending the beleaguered mineral from its critics.
Strangely, Canada’s largesse runs out when it comes to helping developing countries deal with the decades-long aftermath of asbestos exposure. There are “no Government of Canada chrysotile asbestos programs that provide direct financial support to developing countries.”5 It is subterranean ethics where Canada takes the wealth from asbestos exports, but abandons developing countries to their own devices to care for people made ill by asbestos or to institute alternatives to asbestos cement, which appear to be about 30% more expensive.20
A year ago, it appeared that Canada might rethink its position. Health Canada convened an international committee of scientific experts to study the risks of chrysotile exposure. The expert committee delivered its report in March, and Health Canada promised to publish it soon after. Yet as this issue goes to press, the report has been kept secret for over half a year, and sources tell CMAJ the blockage is in the prime minister’s office. In contrast, the US Environmental Protection Agency has convened a similar expert group — except that their process is transparent and the public is invited to attend the meetings.21 Small wonder that the chair of the Health Canada committee has since written to the government, lamenting that “Canada has a pretty bleak reputation in most of the health science world.”22
Sadly, the criticism is deserved. For Canada to export asbestos to poor countries that lack the capacity to use it safely is inexplicable. But to descend several steps further to suppress the results of an expert committee, pour millions of dollars into an institute that shills for the industry and oppose even the Rotterdam Convention’s simple rule of politeness is inexcusable. Canada’s government seems to have calculated that it is better for the country’s asbestos industry to do business under the radar like arms traders, regardless of the deadly consequences. What clearer indication could there be that the government knows what it is doing is shameful and wrong?
Canada’s government must put an end to this death-dealing charade. Canada must immediately drop its opposition to placing chrysotile under the Rotterdam Convention’s notification and consent processes and stop funding the Chrysotile Institute. More importantly, Canada should do its part in alleviating the global epidemic of asbestos-related disease by ending the mining and export of chrysotile, as the WHO recommends.
With the Editorial-Writing Team (Paul C. Hébert MD MHSc, Rajendra Kale MD, Barbara Sibbald BJ, Ken Flegel MDCM MSc and Noni MacDonald MD MSc)
Competing interests: None declared for David Boyd. See http://www.cmaj.ca/misc/edboard.shtml for the Editorial-Writing Team’s statements.
1. Castleman BI, Joshi TK. The global asbestos struggle today. Eur J Oncol 2007;12:149-54.
2. Brophy JT, Keith MM, Schieman J. Canada’s asbestos legacy at home and abroad. Int J Occup Environ Health 2007;13:235-42.
3. Ladou J. The asbestos cancer epidemic. Environ Health Perspect 2004;112:285-90.[Medline]
4. Rotterdam Convention on the prior informed consent procedure for certain hazardous chemicals and pesticides in international trade. Norwich (UK): The Stationary Office; 2004. Available: http://www.pic.int/en/ConventionText/ONU-GB.pdf (accessed 2008 Sept 17).
5. Office of the Auditor General of Canada. Canada’s policies on chrysotile asbestos exports [response by the Minister of Foreign Affairs to Environment Petition no. 179]. Ottawa (ON): The Office; 2006. Available: http://www.oag-bvg.gc.ca/internet/English/pet_179_e_28915.html (accessed 2008 Sept 22).
6. Secretariat for the Rotterdam Convention on the Prior Informed Consent Procedure for Certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade. Annex V: draft decision guidance document: chrysotile asbestos. Annex to document no: UNEP/FAO/RC/COP.3/11. Available: http://www.pic.int/home.php?type=b&id=70 (accessed 2008 Sept 22).
7. World Health Organization. Elimination of asbestos-related disease. Geneva: The Organization; 2006. Available: http://whqlibdoc.who.int/hq/2006/WHO_SDE_OEH_06.03_eng.pdf (accessed 2008 Sept 17).
8. International Agency for Research on Cancer. Asbestos. IARC Monogr Eval Carcinog Risks Hum 1987;(Suppl 7):106-16.
9. International Labour Organization. 2006. Resolution concerning asbestos: adopted by the 95th session of the International Labour Conference, June 2006. (UNEP/FAO/RC/COP.3/INF/17). Available: http://www.pic.int/home.php?type=b&id=70 (accessed 2008 Sept 22).
10. Tossavainen A, Kotilainen M, Takahashi K, et al. Amphibole fibres in Chinese chrysotile asbestos. Ann Occup Hyg 2001;45:145-52.[Abstract/Free Full Text]
11. Pearce N. Corporate influences on epidemiology. Int J Epidemiol 2008;37:46-53.[Abstract/Free Full Text]
12. Yano E, Wang ZM, Wang XR, et al. Cancer mortality among workers exposed to amphibole-free chrysotile asbestos. Am J Epidemiol 2001;154:538-43.[Abstract/Free Full Text]
13. Mirabelli D, Calisti R, Barone AF, et al. Excess of mesotheliomas after exposure to chrysotile in Balangero, Italy. Occup Environ Med 2008; Jun 4. Epub ahead of print.
14. Hein MJ, Stayner LT, Lehman E, et al. Follow-up study of chrysotile textile workers: cohort mortality and exposure-response. Occup Environ Med 2007;64: 616-25.[Abstract/Free Full Text]
15. Li L, Sun TD, Zhang X, et al. Cohort studies on cancer mortality among workers exposed only to chrysotile asbestos: a meta-analysis. Biomed Environ Sci 2004;17:459-68.[Medline]
16. Berman DW, Crump KS. A. Meta-analysis of asbestos-related cancer risk that addresses fiber size and mineral type. Crit Rev Toxicol 2008;38:49-73.[Medline]
17. Berman DW, Crump KS. Update of potency factors for asbestos-related lung cancer and mesothelioma. Crit Rev Toxicol 2008;38:1-47.[Medline]
18. Canada Minerals Yearbook 2006. Chrysotile. Ottawa (ON): Natural Resources Canada. Minerals and Metals Sector; 2007. Available: http://www.nrcan.gc.ca/mms/cmy/content/2006/20.pdf (accessed 2008 Sept 17).
19. Virta RL. Asbestos substitutes. In: Kogel JE, Nikhil C, Trivedi JM, et al., editors. Industrial minerals and rocks: commodities, markets and uses. 7th ed. Littleton (CO): Society for Mining, Metallurgy and Exploration; 2006.
20. Tri DD, Toan NN, Cong NT. Possibility of using substitute materials for asbestos and non-asbestos fibro cement roofing tiles to reduce environmental pollution and increase workers’ health protection in Vietnam. Proceedings [CD-ROM] of the Global Asbestos Conference; 2004 Nov 19–21; Tokyo, Japan. Tokyo, Japan: World Asbestos Congress; 2004. Available: http://worldasbestosreport.org/gac2004/pl_7_04_e.pdf (accessed 2008 Aug 22)
21. Federal Register/ Vol 73, No 108/ Wednesday, June 4, 2008/Notices. US Environmental Protection Agency. Science advisory board staff office: notification of an upcoming meeting of the science advisory board asbestos committee. Washington: The Register; 2008. Available: http://www.epa.gov/fedrgstr/EPA-MEETINGS/2008/June/Day-04/m12503.pdf (accessed 2008 Sept 22).
22. Daubs K. Asbestos report ‘misused:’ scientists. Ottawa Citizen 2008 May 28. Available: http://www.canada.com/ottawacitizen/news/story.html?id=4c342ebe-2633-4ea4-bc06-34797b8ed932 (accessed 2008 Sept 17).
From the International Ban Asbestos Secretariat.
Report warns India is “on the cusp of a devastating asbestos cancer epidemic”
Record and rising asbestos imports to India will translate to thousands of asbestos-related cancer deaths each year and are already responsible for “a hidden epidemic,” an expert report has revealed. Exposing the Indian Government’s collusion with asbestos stakeholders at home and abroad, the authors call for an immediate national ban on all asbestos use.
“India’s Asbestos Time Bomb,” published today (September 25, 2008) by a coalition of Asian campaign and research organisations, global union federations and the International Ban Asbestos Secretariat (IBAS), calculates that total asbestos usage in India since 1980 exceeds 6 million tonnes, matching the amount used in the UK in its entire industrial history. India is far and away the world’s largest importer of asbestos.
“The UK is now in the grip of its largest ever industrial disease epidemic, with between 5,000 and 10,000 estimated to be dying of asbestos cancers every year,” says report editor Laurie Kazan-Allen. “India, with ineffective regulation on asbestos use, is on the verge of a much larger and more devastating epidemic. Because it can take 30 years or more for asbestos-related cancers to emerge, India faces an inevitable and sharp escalation in cancer cases over the next three decades. No one is safe!”
Annual imports of asbestos to India now exceed a quarter of a million tonnes, and have climbed rapidly over the last decade. “We estimate asbestos cancers already claim thousands of lives each year in India, but this will certainly exceed 10,000 cases a year by 2040,” says Kazan-Allen. “This will put an incredible strain on families, communities and India’s medical system.
A hidden epidemic exists due to medical ignorance and government intransigence; in light of the dearth of serious measures to alert workers and consumers of the asbestos hazard, things can only get worse. India does not have a national cancer registry or any system to record asbestos cancers or asbestos exposures, so the problem remains unrecognised and unaddressed. But instead of acting to remedy these failings, the report warns that India is actively encouraging asbestos use, both at home and globally.
India, working closely with asbestos stakeholders in Canada, has been instrumental in blocking a United Nations move to impose health information disclosures on exports of chrysotile asbestos. When the UN next considers applying global right-to-know rules on chrysotile at its Rotterdam Convention meeting in Rome this October, it is likely that both nations will again move to veto any effort to require exporters to warn of the risks posed by using chrysotile asbestos.
“There is an unimaginable and unconscionable level of ignorance of the asbestos hazard in India, a situation that is a great boon to Indian asbestos companies that are benefiting from huge levels of economic growth,” says IBAS’s Laurie Kazan-Allen. “The government is a willing conspirator in this state of affairs, with devastating consequences for the health of its citizens. But politicians and asbestos peddlers should take heed – we aim to see the industry wither and die and its apologists face the courts for knowingly and in the name of profit pushing the world’s worst ever industrial killer.”
While I was writing “Don’t Get Fooled Again” I came across numerous examples of pseudo-science being disseminated via the net, from the poisonous theories of the AIDS denialists to the clumsy corporate quackery of the industry-funded Chrysotile Institute.
Following the recent scare stories about the CERN project and the MMR vaccine, Tim Berners-Lee, the man often credited with inventing the World Wide Web, has raised concerns over the extent to which unsubstantiated claims about science are often disseminated online. Berners-Lee suggests that we should consider some kind of ratings system (or systems) to give a public measure of the reliability of the multitude of online sources.
Having waded through page after page of the eloquently-worded online nonsense scattered across the net over the last year – and read some of the stories of those who have been persuaded on the basis of a pseudo-scientific conspiracy theory to stop taking medicines that could have saved their lives, it’s easy to agree that there is a very serious issue here.
But I’m not sure that formal ratings systems will really help. Pseudo-scientists like the AIDS denialist Peter Duesberg already claim that their exclusion from the mainstream media, and their failure to get published in peer-reviewed scientific journals, is evidence of the ‘conspiracy of silence’ ranged against him. If some sort of ‘reliability rating’ system is introduced, the conspiracy theorists will simply say the same thing about the fact that their website has been refused a rating (or given a very low one). It seems unlikely that the kind of person who would be taken in by conspiracist claims about peer review and the mainstream media is going to be immune to similarly paranoid arguments about ‘reliability ratings’. Setting up a formal system is just going to give the conspiracy theorists something else to get paranoid about.
It also seems to me that increasing numbers of people are now figuring out for themselves how to gauge the reliability of what they see and read online, and that a more effective way of combatting web tomfoolery might simply be to promote some basic ‘rules of thumb’, drawn from experience, which web users can then apply in their own way.
A further point is that by focussing solely on the dangers of nonsense being spread in the online media, we risk letting established media sources off the hook, when complacency in this area is equally dangerous. In “Don’t Get Fooled Again” I found many cases of mainstream journalists being comprehensively duped by dangerous pseudo-scientific ideas – from the bamboozling of the Sunday Times journalist Neville Hodgkinson and the Sunday Telegraph commentator Christopher Booker, to the PR deceptions of the tobacco industry during the 1960s and 1970s.