International academy a respected asbestos think tank

Michael Tremoglie Nov. 15, 2011, 3:57am


WASHINGTON (Legal Newsline) - Independent scientific research institutes whose work influences the policies of the U.S. government as well as governments abroad, also impacts litigation in the states, an economics professor says.

"The information from these think tanks does bubble up," said Professor Alex Tabarrok, chair of the Economics Department at George Mason University in Virginia.

And one such organization is the Collegium Ramazzini, an independent international academy founded in 1982 by Irving J. Selikoff, Cesare Maltoni and other scientists.

Selikoff is credited as a pioneer in field of asbestos research, having established a link between the inhalation of asbestos particles and diseases like mesothelioma. It was his research that led to the regulation of asbestos.

CR is comprised of 180 internationally renowned experts in the fields of occupational and environmental health. In effect, it acts as a conduit of information between the world of scientific discovery and those social and political centers which create laws based on science.

James Copland, director of the Center for Legal Reform at the Manhattan Institute in New York, said organizations that host "research" conferences affect trial outcomes.

"A lot of lawyers pay top dollar to attend these conferences," Copland said.

The CR "assesses present and future risks of injury and disease attributable to the workplace and the environment. It focuses especially on the identification of preventable risk factors," according to CR's website.

Some of the world's most important researchers in the field of occupational health and medicine, which includes asbestos science, meet annually in the small town of Capri, Italy, for a conference called Ramazzini Days. But the Collegium holds other conferences all over the world, sometimes ones sponsored by the trial bar.

"A lot of the environmental and occupational health medicine people are involved in it," said Philadelphia plaintiffs attorney Ben Shein. "They do a publication every year, CR Journal, based on the papers they receive and the research they do. It's pretty interesting stuff."

Shein also noted that Selikoff, "the father of asbestos research," was a founder. He believes it to be an interesting group from a medical and scientific perspective.

"It is an independent international academy which provides a lot of information on the causes and cures of mesothelioma," he said.

Scientists from Ramazzini have repeatedly asked for a ban on all asbestos.

The most recent statement issued in December 2010 called for an international ban on mining and use of asbestos.

"The risks of exposure to asbestos cannot be controlled by technology or by regulation of work practices," the statement read. "Scientists and responsible authorities in countries allowing the use of asbestos should have no illusion that 'controlled use' of chrysotile asbestos is an effective alternative to a ban on all use of asbestos.

"Even the best workplace controls cannot prevent occupational and environmental exposures to products in use or to waste. Safer substitute products are available and in use in countries all over the world where asbestos is banned."

This year at the annual Ramazzini Days conference, an asbestos panel took up, "When Politics and Evidence Collide: Canada's 'Rogue Nation' Position on Asbestos."

The panel included Colin L. Soskolne, PhD (epidemiology), School of Public Health, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada and Kathleen Ruff, senior human rights adviser, Rideau Institute, Ottawa, Canada.

"Canada has stood alone for several years among developed nations by maintaining the double-standard of mining and exporting asbestos while avoiding its use at home," the panelists said. "In this paper, we explore the behavior of Canada in its intransigence on this double-standard."

The government of Canada has maintained that asbestos can be used safely in developing parts of the world.

But, according to CR scientists, "There are no data to support this position. Indeed, the data show just the opposite."

As far as CR is concerned, the Canadian government has relied on scientists, funded by the asbestos industry, who claim that "chrysotile asbestos (the only kind of asbestos mined for more than twenty years) is less hazardous than other forms of asbestos, and that breathing high levels of chrysotile asbestos (ten times higher than permitted in Western countries) causes no harm to health among people in developing countries."

The CR researchers claim that there is a clash between science and politics. Their objective, they claim, is to see that science prevails.

The Chrysotile Institute of Canada responds to critics such as those at the CR by stating: "The chrysotile industry created and is now implementing a responsible-use programme that is based on the controlled-use approach to regulating chrysotile.

"Representatives of the world's major chrysotile exporting mines signed an agreement whereby they committed to supply chrysotile fibre only to those companies that demonstrate compliance with national health and safety regulations.

"Canadian chrysotile industry, as well as the governments of Canada and Quebec and the national trade unions, supports the safe-use principle - which is a risk assessment/risk management approach - not only for chrysotile, but for all minerals and metals. Most substances hold the potential to be dangerous if misused. We are using our experience with chrysotile as a guide for dealing with those minerals and metals whose use needs to be controlled to ensure public and occupational health and safety."

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