Another surrealist masterpiece from Christopher Booker
Update – False and misleading claims about asbestos are especially galling for those actually living with mesothelioma, a cancer whose only known cause is asbestos exposure. A Mesothelioma action group have now set up a Facebook campaign criticising the Daily Mail over its misleading coverage on this issue.
Compare and contrast…
1. From Christopher Booker in today’s Daily Mail:
Yesterday saw the launch of yet another scare campaign.
As so often before championed by the BBC, it warned us again of the deadly dangers posed by asbestos – this time in Britain’s schools.
It is true that most older school buildings contain asbestos products of one kind or another, such as asbestos cement roof slates or ceiling tiles.
But almost all of these products contain relatively harmless white asbestos, encapsulated in cement or other materials, from which it is virtually impossible to extract even a single dangerous fibre…
…when it is encapsulated in cement, as it most often is, it is virtually impossible for those fibres to escape and be breathed into the lungs at all..
==> From the UK government’s Health and Safety Laboratory, 2007
Epidemiology has shown that chrysotile is a human carcinogen…
The claim that respirable airborne chrysotile fibres are not able to be released from asbestos cement products was refuted by the individual airborne fibres sampled during the breaking of the test sample with a hammer.
2. From Christopher Booker in today’s Daily Mail:
The dangers from such products are so vanishingly small – as many scientific studies have shown – that, in the cautious words of a report by the HSE itself, they are ‘insignificant’. The risks of their causing lung cancer are ‘arguably zero’.
From Christopher Booker in the Sunday Telegraph, May 2008:
The HSE remains adamant that white asbestos is far too dangerous for the law to be changed. Yet this position was comprehensively contradicted by a major study by the HSE’s own statisticians, John Hodgson and Andrew Darnton, published in 2000.
After the most extensive review of the literature on asbestos ever carried out, they concluded that the risk of contracting mesothelioma from white asbestos cement was “insignificant”, while that of lung cancer was “zero”.
==> From the UK government’s Health and Safety Executive, May 2008:
The HSE paper quoted in the article in fact makes no specific statement about the risks of asbestos cement. It provides a summary of risk estimates for mesothelioma and lung cancer in relation to blue, brown and white asbestos across a range of exposures. Blue and brown asbestos are substantially more hazardous than white, but all three types can cause mesothelioma and lung cancer.
3. From Christopher Booker in today’s Daily Mail:
Even the once sensible HSE has been drawn into supporting the scare machine, so that it was recently forced by the Advertising Standards Authority to withdraw a series of commercials claiming that mesothelioma is now killing 4,500 people a year.
When John Bridle, the whistleblower who brought this successful complaint against the HSE for ludicrously exaggerating its figures, he did so simply by producing the evidence of the HSE’s own published statistics, which showed the figure was closer to 2,000 at the very worst.
==> From The Advertising Standards Authority:
We… considered that it was reasonable for HSE to highlight the death rates for asbestos-related diseases, including those which were based on estimates, to todays tradesmen. We considered however that the ads should have made clear that they were based on estimates and the claims should have been made in less absolute tones. We considered that claims such as “Estimates show that, every year, more people are likely to be killed by asbestos than in road accidents” and “Estimates show that, every year, more people are likely to die from exposure to asbestos than in road accidents” might have been acceptable…
==> As the ASA ruling shows, the HSE adverts did not claim that mesothelioma (just one among several fatal asbestos-related diseases) causes 4,500 deaths each year, but rather that “Every year there are more people killed by asbestos, than in road accidents”.
The ASA corrections related to a) The need to make clear that the figures were approximate and based on estimates and b) The need to reduce the estimate of the number of tradesman killed each week by asbestos-related diseases from “six joiners, six electricians, three plumbers and 20 tradesmen” to “approximately six joiners, five electricians, three plumbers and 18 other tradesmen”.
==> And to conclude, a cautionary tale from the Times Higher Education, October 2008
The Health and Safety Executive criticised the University of Wales, Lampeter for failing to “manage the risks from asbestos” a week after staff were told that asbestos found on the premises was not hazardous and that the HSE was not concerned.
On 19 July, a member of university staff walked into a room in Lampeter’s Canterbury Building that was unmarked by warning signs even though contractors in protective suits were removing asbestos.
After the incident, the University and College Union met with university managers and John Bridle, an asbestos consultant…
A UCU spokesman said: “(Professor) Bridle explained that health and safety concerns about asbestos were frequently exaggerated …” The professor stated that the material in the Canterbury Building was “beaverboard coated with an asbestos film”, the UCU representative said. “He produced samples of the material … from the Canterbury Building (which he was keeping in unsealed plastic bags), stating that the material was not notifiable and posed no measurable risk.”…
In 2006, John Bridle was the subject of a Radio 4 You and Yours programme, which challenged his views on asbestos safety.
The BBC said that Professor Bridle has asserted that white asbestos poses no measurable health risk, contrary to the opinion of the World Health Organisation and World Trade Organisation.
Professor Bridle complained to broadcasting regulator Ofcom, arguing that he believed only that encapsulated white asbestos “bonded to manufactured products” posed no measurable risk, and that the BBC did not make this clear. Ofcom did not uphold his complaint.