Asbestos-backed UK scientists caught out

Asbestos financed scientists cited non-existent evidence to support claims made in a paper that downplayed the risks posed by chrysotile (white) asbestos, the only form of asbestos currently in commercial use.

Stefania Boccia and Carlo La Vecchia, the editors-in-chief of the journal Epidemiology, Biostatistics and Public Health (EBPH), published an erratum in their current issue regarding the false information in a 2015 paper, ‘Critical reappraisal of Balangero chrysotile and mesothelioma risk’. Two of the four authors of this paper – Fred Pooley and John Hoskins – are UK-based scientists, while a third, Edward Ilgren, is listed as formerly of the faculty of biological sciences at Oxford University.

Their paper claims that cases of mesothelioma contracted by workers and nearby residents of the Balangero chrysotile asbestos mine in northern Italy were not caused by chrysotile asbestos and that the workers and residents must have been exposed to other forms of asbestos, adding there was “good evidence” this caused the harm. The article states that “Crocidolite and amosite (asbestos) were also transferred to Balangero in jute bags.” But the source cited in the paper to support this claim provides no such evidence, with the erratum admitting it was an “erroneous claim”.

This is the second erratum the article has attracted. An earlier correction came because of undisclosed conflicts of interest, and required Ilgren, Pooley and Hoskins  to disclose their previously unacknowledged ties to the asbestos lobby.

Human rights campaigner Kathleen Ruff, who exposed the errors and undeclared ties, noted: “Asbestos interests spend tens of millions of dollars for scientists to write articles that deny harm caused by chrysotile asbestos and claim that ‘anything but chrysotile (ABC)’ has caused harm. Workers and populations who are exposed to harm from chrysotile asbestos do not have tens of millions of dollars to spend to defend their right to health. Instead, they depend on scientists and scientific organisations to show integrity and uphold scientific and ethical standards.”

She said that the EBPH editors had been reluctant to publish either erratum.

EBPH joint editor Carlo La Vecchia had earlier been forced to publish an erratum to a May 2012 article he co-authored with Paulo Boffetta in the European Journal of Cancer Prevention, admitting their undeclared links to the asbestos industry.  Almost three years after publishing the original paper, both admitted they had acted for asbestos defendants in criminal trials in Italy.

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