Monday, March 08, 2004

Asbestos Hazards? -- Nevermind

We here at Confined Space are man enough to admit when we're wrong.

You know all that crap we've been writing about asbestos being so dangerous, how it will kill 10,000 Americans every year over the next decade, how it's destroyed the lives of millions over the past decades, what it did to the town of Libby, Montana, how Brazilian activist Fernanda Giannasi is being harassed for trying to protect workers, and on and on?


Turns out it's perfectly fine, you can even make paper out of it, as the Canada-based Asbestos Institute proved by issuing a press release made out of chrysotile asbestos. The Asbestos Institute is a lobbying organization that is part of an effort by the asbestos industry to convince the Canadian federal government and the Quebec government to rehabilitate asbestos by demonstrating it can be used safely, according to an extensive report in Hazards Magazine.

It's actually true that a chrysotile press release was issued, but it's not true that chrysotile asbestos is innocent. There are many different forms of asbestos and the asbestos industry in Canada and elsewhere have been trying to convince the world for years that one of the most common types, chrysotile, is not harmful. Unfortunately, Canada, Russia, Zimbabwe and other pro-asbestos countries have had some recent success blocking increased restrictions on the selling of chrysotile asbestos.

The asbestos industry has argued that because chrysotile fibers are a different shape than other asbestos fibers, it's not harmful. How do they explain the cancers associated with exposure to chrysotile? It must be that the fibers have been contaminated with something else that causes cancer. Despite the fact that these theories have been disproven by David Egilman and others in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine,
The Canadian asbestos mining industry has a long history of manipulating scientific data to generate results that support claims that their product is 'innocuous'

"Researchers complicit in this manipulation seem to be motivated by a variety of interests, including a desire to support an important national industry and a pre-existing ideological commitment to support corporate interests over worker or community interests.

"Conducting industry-friendly research can also anchor an academic career by guaranteeing the steady stream of funding necessary to stay afloat in the 'publish or perish' environment of the university."

The report comes on the heels of a paper in the International Journal of Occupational and Environmental Health (IJOEH) that concluded the continued use of asbestos "is testament to the effectiveness of a campaign, spearheaded by Canadian interests, to promote a product already banned in many developed countries."
Check out Hazards for the rest of the whole sordid story.

Oh, and the funny press release? According to Laurie Allen, editor of the British Asbestos Newsletter, the paper was found to have a surprisingly high asbestos content. It "would, upon tearing or rough handling be almost certain to liberate fibres into the atmosphere," according to Allen.