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Asbestos panelists accuse government of misusing science by ProQuest

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[Trevor Ogden] agreed to serve on the panel despite warnings from groups opposed to Canada's trade in asbestos because he supported Health Canada's decision to "do a good thing" by considering the science behind the cancer-causing potential of chrysotile. "Clearly it's been overtaken by other interests," he says.The resulting panel discussions led to at least one "harsh" exchange between [David Bernstein] and Bice Fubini, a chemistry professor at the University of Turin in Italy. The disagreement concerned the chemistry of the chrysotile fibres and how long Bernstein claims they remain in the lungs if inhaled, Fubini told CMAJ. "Certainly I did disagree with the description he gave of the whole chemistry of the fibres."Until the early 1970s, Quigley sold products containing asbestos. Martin and other claimants have filed more than 171 000 lawsuits against Quigley alleging that exposure to asbestos made them ill. Pfizer Inc. bought Quigley in 1968. Martin's lawyer contended that Bernstein received US$400 623.20 from Union Carbide. During the trial, Bernstein testified that unlike amphibole asbestos, "the shorter chrysotile fibers are removed from the lung and they are not available to cause disease."

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                         Asbestos panelists accuse government of misusing science

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                                 conomic and political interests         case of the Canadian government’s de-               tries importing it to give what’s known
                                 are trumping science by threat-         lay in releasing an expert scientific               as prior informed consent. If chrysotile
                                 ening the federal government’s          panel report while at the same time                 were on the list, Canada would have to
                         release of a study of the health hazards        taking a strong oppositional position               prepare a document discussing any se-
                         of chrysotile asbestos, says the British        on an international trade agreement di-             vere restrictions imposed on chrysotile
                         chair of an expert panel appointed by           rectly related to the subject of the re-            for health or environmental reasons.
                         Health Canada.                                  port,” he wrote.                                    Importing countries would then decide
                             The delay of the report is an “annoy-          Ogden agreed to serve on the panel               whether to import the substance, ban it,
                         ing piece of needless government se-            despite warnings from groups opposed                or restrict it.
                         crecy,” says panel chair Trevor Ogden,          to Canada’s trade in asbestos because                   In advance of an October 2008
                         editor-in-chief of the Annals of Occupa-        he supported Health Canada’s decision               meeting of parties to the Convention,
                         tional Hygiene. In an editorial published       to “do a good thing” by considering the             Health Canada brought together inter-
                         Sept, 9, 2008, Ogden accuses the Cana-          science behind the cancer-causing po-               national experts to determine the po-
                         dian government of misusing science.            tential of chrysotile. “Clearly it’s been           tency of exposure to chrysotile versus
                             With the government having now              overtaken by other interests,” he says.             other forms of asbestos, and how best
                         held onto the report for more than 6               Canada is the world’s fifth-largest ex-          to estimate the risk of cancer from ex-
                         months, Ogden questions whether the             porter of chrysotile asbestos, selling ap-          posure to chrysotile asbestos.
                         analysis will ever be released and won-         proximately 175 000 tonnes worth about                  The experts had divergent views.
                         ders whether Canada is turning its back         $112 million to 80 nations, most of them                Some members believe trade in
                         on “the best evaluation of science” con-        in Asia. The industry, based near Thet-             chrysotile should be banned, and at
                         cerning the risks of chrysotile asbestos.       ford Mines, Quebec, creates 900 direct              least one member, toxicology consult-
                             Ogden penned the editorial to high-         and 1000 indirect jobs, according to Nat-           ant David Bernstein (see sidebar), ar-
                         light “the problem of disguising eco-           ural Resources Canada 2006 figures.                 gued that it should not.
                         nomic and political decisions as scien-            In 2006, Canada blocked the addi-                    The health debate revolves around
                         tific ones, using outdated or possibly          tion of chrysotile asbestos to a list of            whether chrysotile asbestos is as carcino-
                         one-sided evidence.”                            substances that would, under the                    genic as amphibole asbestos, and what
                             “This problem, which is not unique          United Nations’ Rotterdam Convention                level of risk chrysotile poses for contract-
                         to Canada, is highlighted in the current        (see editorial, page 871), require coun-            ing mesothelioma and lung cancer.
                                                                                                                                 The resulting panel discussions led
                                                                                                                             to at least one “harsh” exchange be-
                                                                                                                             tween Bernstein and Bice Fubini, a
                                                                                                                             chemistry professor at the University of
                                                                                                                             Turin in Italy. The disagreement con-
                                                                                                                             cerned the chemistry of the chrysotile
                                                                                                                             fibres and how long Bernstein claims
                                                                                      
								
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