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Posts Tagged ‘Professor John Bridle

George Monbiot launches the Booker prize for pseudo-science…

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It had to happen sooner or later…

From George Monbiot at the Guardian

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.

Booker attacks… BBC Newsnight science editor Susan Watts

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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.

See also: In his 41st article on the subject, Booker accuses the BBC of “moral corruption” for highlighting the health risks of asbestos

Poll: Is it right for the Sunday Telegraph to mislead the public about the health risks of asbestos?

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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:

Health experts urge Canadian government to stop funding the Chrysotile Institute

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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.”

In his 41st article on the subject, Booker accuses the BBC of “moral corruption” for highlighting the health risks of asbestos

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Earlier this week the BBC’s Today Programme reported a rise in the number of teachers, doctors and nurses dying from the incurable cancer mesothelioma, having been exposed to asbestos in schools and hospitals. The programme highlighted the case of Mary Artherton, a former nurse who had been diagnosed with the disease after working in three hospitals where asbestos was present.

“I was absolutely horrified when I heard the news”, she told the BBC. “I’d nursed people with mesothelioma in the past. I know the prognosis was very poor and it just frightened me, completely.”

The BBC had previously highlighted a new campaign by the Health and Safety Executive to raise awareness of the risks of asbestos exposure among plumbers, electricians and other tradespeople:

The HSE says research suggests exposure kills on average six electricians, three plumbers and six joiners every week and it fears those numbers could grow in the future because of complacency.

It believes only one in 10 current tradesmen recognises the danger and is launching a campaign to raise awareness.

The HSE’s new campaign was also publicised by the UK’s largest cancer charity, Cancer Research UK:

When a person comes into contact with asbestos, they breathe in tiny fibres of the substance and these can irritate and damage the cells lining the lung. Up to 80 per cent of people diagnosed with mesothelioma have been in contact with asbestos, and the risk is greatest among tradesmen who can be exposed to the substance at work. According to the HSE, at least 4,000 people die as a result of asbestos every year. But scientists believe this rate could rise, since people who have been exposed usually do not develop mesothelioma for between 15 and 40 years. The organisation’s new campaign, ‘Asbestos: The hidden killer’, is designed to improve awareness among tradesmen, many of whom underestimate the risk that asbestos still poses despite the ban.

In response to the BBC’s coverage, the Sunday Telegraph columnist Christopher Booker has written his 41st article misrepresenting the science around asbestos, and accusing the BBC of “moral corruption” for highlighting the health risks of asbestos exposure:

Last week, the BBC was again publicising the latest scare over asbestos, launched by the Health and Safety Executive and supported by all those who stand to benefit by it, from asbestos removal contractors to ambulance-chasing lawyers (and the trade unions which get £250 for every referral to solicitors specialising in compensation claims).

In the article, Booker also repeats his false claim that the HSE had previously described the risks of white asbestos cement as “insignificant or zero”.

In previous articles he has repeatedly misrepresented one paper by two HSE statisticians, Hodgson and Darnton, which he says drew such a conclusion. The editor of the journal which published that study recently commented here that:

“The paper does not say that the risks from asbestos cement are probably insignificant – it uses this phrase for the chrysotile risks at the lowest exposures. At higher (but still low) exposures, the authors gave estimates of lung cancer risk about 30-40 times lower than those from crocidolite, and did not regard this as insignificant..

The 500 times difference… may apply to the relative risk of mesothelioma, a much less important disease than lung cancer in chrysotile exposure…”

UN treaty body considers further restrictions on chrysotile asbestos

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Interestingly, Christopher Booker’s latest article downplaying the health risks of white asbestos comes just before the week in which the UN will debate whether to place further restrictions on international trade in the material. The 120 member Rotterdam Convention is “aimed at helping developing countries more effectively manage potentially harmful imported substances”. If state parties agree to place chrysotile on the treaty’s “watch list” of hazardous materials, then any country exporting it will be obliged to ensure that the recipient country has given its explicit consent to receive it.

Russia and Canada, both major exporters of chrysotile asbestos, are strongly opposed to any such moves, but a debate is raging in Canada over the government’s longstanding efforts to block restrictions on the asbestos industry – including its multi-million dollar subsidy to the industry lobby group, the Chrysotile Institute, to which both “Professor” John Bridle and Christopher Booker have been linked.

Canadian Medical Association condemns government support for Chrysotile Institute’s “death-dealing charade”

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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.

Footnotes

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.

REFERENCES

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2. Brophy JT, Keith MM, Schieman J. Canada’s asbestos legacy at home and abroad. Int J Occup Environ Health 2007;13:235-42.
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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).
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