The Lancet Highlights IARC Controversy 

by Laurie Kazan-Allen



Towards the end of last year (2012), disturbing reports were circulating about a controversial research initiative mounted by personnel from the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) and Russian scientists with proven links to asbestos vested interests. Some critics perceived the project entitled “Historical cohort study of cancer mortality following exposure to chrysotile asbestos at the Uralasbest plant in Asbest, Russian Federation,” as misguided, others saw it as duplicitous. The attendance of IARC's Dr. Valerie McCormack at a Kiev conference, widely believed to be part of an asbestos propaganda onslaught, and the news of the IARC–Russian collaboration were reported on the IBAS website in November.1

On December 13, 2012, leading international scientists and campaigners wrote to Dr. Christopher Wild, IARC's Director, expressing their concerns; this letter was also sent to Margaret Chan, Director General of the World Health Organization (WHO), Dr. Eduardo Seleiro of the IARC Ethics Committee and Dr. Abha Saxena of the WHO's Research Ethics Review Committee.2 The authors requested that “IARC discontinue any collaboration with the Russian promoters of asbestos or with institutes that have been cut off by WHO as collaborating centers. WHO should freshly examine this situation from the ethical standpoint before any further work on this collaboration is allowed to proceed at IARC.” No reply has been received.

Today (February 1, 2013) an article was published in The Lancet, the world's most prestigious medical journal, entitled: IARC in the dock over ties with asbestos industry,3 which explored “alleged links between the International Agency for the Research on Cancer and the asbestos industry…” Journalist David Holmes asked: “Does asbestos corrupt more than just DNA?” Holmes reveals that the proposal to undertake a joint “study on the quantitative cancer risks of chrysotile in Russia” was floated just after the Russian Federation signed a Memorandum of Understanding with IARC and agreed to resume financial contributions (2007). Could there be a connection? The Kiev conference – Chrysotile Asbestos: Risk Assessment and Management – and a research trip by IARC scientists to Asbest, Russia, took place in November 2012. The timing is significant as Holmes points out.

These events occurred in the run-up to a UN meeting which will consider plans to regulate the global trade in asbestos. Is this coincidental?

Is it also coincidental that a 29-page review entitled “Health Risk of Chrysotile Revisited” was published online a week ago?4 The authors, led by the asbestos industry's favorite expert witness: David Bernstein, conclude:

“The importance of the present and other similar reviews is that the studies they report show that low exposures to chrysotile do not present a detectable risk to health. Since total dose over time decides the likelihood of disease occurrence and progression, they also suggest that the risk of an adverse outcome may be low with even high exposures experienced over a short duration.”

This paper was cited by a eurosceptic Member of the European Parliament during a meeting of the EU'S Committee on Employment and Social Affairs last week as part of his objections to heightened safeguards for workers at risk of asbestos exposure. Is it yet another coincidence that this review was funded by the International Chrysotile Association and the Canadian Chrysotile Association?

Far from being coincidental, the research being conducted, the conferences being held and the papers being published are part of a long-term, orchestrated plan by asbestos stakeholders to counter all attempts to tarnish the image of chrysotile asbestos, a substance which continues to be sold in large quantities around the world. As long as money is to be made, the industry will leave no stone unturned in its quest to milk the asbestos cash cow. It is sad to see that they may now have new allies to help them do so.

February 1, 2013


1 Kazan-Allen L. What's Going on at IARC? November 16, 2012
See: Kazan-Allen L. Chrysotile Industry Counteroffensive 2012. November 11, 2012.

2 Letter to Dr. C. Wild. December 13, 2012.

3 Holmes D. IARC in the dock over ties with asbestos industry. 2 February, 2013. The Lancet;
Volume 381, Issue 9864, Pages 359 – 361.

4 Bernstein D, et al. Health Risk of Chrysotile Revisited.” February 2013. Critical Reviews in Toxicology; Volume 43, Issue: 02, pages 154-183.



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