A recent article in the Lancet medical journal made allegations that the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), the research arm of the World Health Organization (WHO), has come under the influence of the Russian asbestos industry. The organization categorically denies these allegations.
In an article appearing February 2, a Lancet journalist questioned whether the asbestos industry in Russia has subjected the IARC to “corporate capture”, even though WHO has been a leader in the worldwide push to stop use of this deadly mineral, the cause of mesothelioma cancer. The article also suggests that the agency may be behind a campaign to keep “white” chrysotile asbestos off a list of hazardous substances. IARC denies these allegations.
Both agencies called the Lancet article “erroneous” in a statement to the Toronto Star. “The Lancet report is poorly researched and contains a number of false allegations and unfounded inferences,” the statement said. “The Agency has extensive experience of conducting important research whilst protecting itself from undue influence from a variety of stakeholders with vested interests.”
Once a top exporter of chrysotile asbestos, Canada has been at the head of a campaign to protect the export of this mineral. Now, it seems Russia has taken that role over.
Right now, chrysotile asbestos is the only form of asbestos not included on the UN Rotterdam Convention, a list of hazardous controlled substances. Member states will meet in April to address this list, so the issue of inclusion of white asbestos will soon come up again. Any decision to feature a material on the list must be unanimous, and so far Canada has been the dissenting vote. Now, though, the asbestos industry in Canada is defunct, leaving Russia as the world’s leading chrysotile exporter.
Many people, including some Canadians, are angered by the continuous blocking of chrysotile from the hazardous substance list. “Russia is the world’s leading exporter of asbestos by far and it is the centre of propaganda and corrupt science on asbestos,” said Kathleen Ruff, a senior human rights adviser at the Rideau Institute in Ottawa who was quoted in the Lancet article, expressing her concerns about the issue.
According to the article, concerns about the IARC’s collusion with the Russian asbestos industry were first raised in November, when the agency accepted an invitation to attend a conference in Keiv, Ukraine.